Is agritourism a good fit for your enterprise?

Establishing an agritourism venture can benefit you, the community and the environment.

Agritourism is the business of establishing farm destinations that provide pleasure as well as recreation, information, and education. Tours, tastings, dinners-in-the-field, farm stays, vineyards, breweries, ranches, workshops, festivals, and the direct sale of products through ‘pick-your-own’ are just a few examples. With today’s interest in fresh and local food products, farmer’s may find a ready audience to enable them to successfully diversify.

According the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service’s, last survey, just over 33,000 farms nation-wide reported that they received farm income from agritourism and recreation activities in 2012. Chances are good that that number will have increased by the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Adding agritourism to an existing farm enterprise can be a great way to promote your connections with customers, increase farm revenue, educate non-farm citizens about today’s sustainable farming practices, and protect the beauty of rural landscapes.

If you are considering an agribusiness venture, it’s critical to carefully assess your own characteristics and values. Do you have the temperament and personality style to host visitors on your farm and answer lots of questions? Agritourism is a hospitality industry, so making a commitment to think of the customer’s needs first must suit you. Tourists today are very motivated by “the experience” for themselves and their children, so enabling them to get involved rather than just watch will pay dividends.

Get started by spending some time doing research. See if you can find out what is wanted or needed by asking your friends, relatives and neighbors what they’d like to see in an agritourism experience, and/or if they’d be interested in what you’re thinking of offering. Find other agritourism businesses on the internet, and go visiting, near or far. You can also find state and national agritourism conferences to give you a broad background in what is involved.

In addition, there are many organizations to support agritourism businesses, in Michigan and beyond. The Michigan Agritourism Association is a non-profit association that provides promotion, education, advocacy, problem resolution and networking for it’s members. They have an active facebook page and publish the "Michigan Agritourism Directory” each year. There is also a National Agritourism Professionals Association. NAPA will provide industry resources and support to help agritourism businesses work through regulatory and policy challenges and assist with promotion of member’s agritourism activities. You can also link with the Farm-Based Education Network, which is a free member network established to strengthen and support the work of educators, farmers, and community leaders providing access and experiences of all kinds on productive working farms.

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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