Finding the story in your farm's history: Part 2

Historical background can provide a strong draw for your agritourism operation.

In my previous article Finding the story in your farm’s history: Part 1, I shared tips from Matthew Schuld, who spoke at the recent Great Lakes Expo in Grand Rapids on this topic. Matthew is a former museum manager for Elkhart County Historical Museum and outreach coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network. Matthew is currently employed by Summit Tree Sales, and shared great ideas for discovering, displaying and sharing the historical information that you might collect if interested in enhancing your agritourism operation.

How do you begin to share your history? Start with signage that is direct and brief. For example,“The farm you’re visiting today has been helping to feed the community since 1870.” Then tap into the skills you already have as a farm marketer - use your creativity for other signage, interactive displays, and hands on activities that briefly introduce customers to the history of your farm. Use the photos, diaries and/or artificats you have to make them a historical actor in an ongoing historical event and place.

Utilizing anniversaries to commemorate the past is another great idea. For instance, is your farm celebrating 50 years in business, or 100 years on the same land? Plan a celebration! Get the community involved! In return, get involved in commemorating the anniversaries of other local and national historical events in your community and develop a symbiotic relationship that will pay dividends for many years. 

Do you have products that connect to long standing traditions, like making maple syrup or apple butter? Tell customers about these traditions, or involve them in walking through the process. Maybe there’s a story of fascinating characters from the past who started a family tradition, or even a special recipe you still make today.

Your farm or individual structures on your farm may be eligible for a variety of local, state, or national historical designations as well. Check into these possibilities and display them prominently if you qualify:

  • The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Eligibility is determined by examining the property’s age, integrity, and significance.
  • Most states have a Historic Preservation Office, and many offer programs to help you achieve both state and national designation as a historic place. Tax credits may be available depending on your state.
  • In Michigan, the Centennial Farms Program recognizes farms that have remained in the same family for 100 years or more. Properties must be a working farm of ten plus acres. Check to see if your state has a program, as most Midwestern states do.

The Michigan Agritourism Association has many resources for your use as well. Visit their website and consider joining for the benefits, information and networks they have to offer. For more information on this topic, see my partner article Finding the story in your farm’s history: Part 1.

The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides business counseling for product development, packaging and marketing strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food, value-added agriculture, and natural resource products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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