Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism
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Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism

Business Management Guide

Katherine L. Adam
NCAT Agriculture Specialist
September 2004


Living History Farm Herb Garden
El Rancho Nido de las Golondrinas, Lemitar, NM
Living History Farm Herb Garden
Photo by: K. Adam

Agri-entertainment and -tourism—new, highly consumer-focused types of agriculture—may offer additional options for diversification and adding stability to farm incomes. Farmers have invented a wide variety of "entertainment farming" options.

Table of Contents

Diversification into ... such opportunities as agricultural or educational tours, u-pick operations, farm stores, pumpkin patches, agricultural festivals, and farm stands is not a substitute for a pro family farm agenda ... [However,] one of my fears is that if farmers and ranchers are too tardy in their response to this emerging opportunity, theme park operators will develop simulated farms and operate them as agri-tourism attractions.

Desmond Jolly, Director
Small Farm Program
University of California — Davis


Joel Salatin, innovator in small-scale agriculture and proprietor of Polyface Farm in Virginia, has published a handbook for beginning farmers.(1) In it he offers a perspective on an important dimension of the future of American farming—education and entertainment. Salatin believes that opportunities for education and entertainment are what the public currently wants and will pay for.

While the popularity of specific enterprises—such as pumpkin patches or U-Pick orchards—may ebb and flow, the public's desire for a "farm experience" remains. Small diversified farms are ideally suited to agri-entertainment. Unlike the mega-hog facility or a corn/soybean operation producing bulk commodities, the small farm can recreate an earlier, simpler, human-scale vision of farming. The chief qualification for the rural landowner who expects to make a living from the land through agri-tourism is the desire and the ability to cater to tourists and meet their expectations of a farm visit.

Tourism is an important industry in many states. For example, it is the second largest industry in New York and the largest in Arkansas. Most writers agree on three main components of rural tourism: small businesses, agricultural events, and regional promotion. Some state agri-tourism promoters lump direct-marketing methods such as CSAs, as well as farm sales of such specialty crops as flowers, garlic, and Asian pears, within the general category of agri-tourism. State-led agri-tourism initiatives work to expand existing businesses, create new festivals and farm markets, and tie this all together regionally to attract visitors. Federal, state, and corporate grants funded the 500-mile Seaway Trail along Lake Ontario in New York, providing advertising and promotion of its agri-tourism enterprises along the way.

Advice for New Ag Entrepreneurs

Starting any new enterprise can be risky. Before investing money, time, and energy in an unconventional agricultural business, new entrepreneurs should complete personal, market, project feasibility, and financial evaluations. Workbooks are available to help work through the questions that arise in enterprise planning. Technical and managerial assistance in these evaluations is available from a wide variety of sources. These include county Extension educators, local and regional organizations committed to rural economic development, small business development centers, state departments of agriculture, economic development agencies, banks, tourism agencies, state universities, and local community colleges. For a brief agri-tourism development checklist, see Appendix A. A business plan can then be developed (basically a spreadsheet) to evaluate the enterprise financially. For guidelines, see the 2004 ATTRA publication Agricultural Business Planning Templates and Resources.

There are three agri-tourism basics: Have something for visitors to see, something for them to do, and something for them to buy. How well you relate the various components (through a theme or otherwise) will determine how successful your entertainment enterprise will be. Things to see and do are often offered free, but there is still a lot of money to be made selling to visitors. Research shows that tourists buy mainly food, beverages, and souvenirs.(2)

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Things to See

Educational tours

In 1993, 14 farmers in largely agricultural Dutchess County, New York, cooperated in creating an educational tour using "crop art" as the focal point. Their aim was to publicize the plight of the family farmer and create a positive image of agriculture for the next generation of urban voters and consumers. The art consisted of large sculptures made from hay bales and other farm crops. (Different types of crop art will be discussed in more detail below.) One of the tour's sponsors, Farm Again, is an organization that matches beginning farmers with retiring farmers to ensure that land is kept in family-sized agricultural production. Others involved in sponsoring the project included Cornell Cooperative Extension, the local Farm Bureau, and the Dutchess County tourism agency.

At the same time, Farm Again sponsored a farm tour project for school children as part of its aim to "reinvent agriculture" in a farming community on the edge of suburban sprawl.(3) This type of tour is part of an overall regional public education strategy, exemplifying comprehensive organization and far-reaching goals. At the other end of the scale, the Wachlin farm ("Grandma's Place"), Sherwood, Oregon, provides a package deal for its specialty—school tours. They charge $4 per child, and the children get any size pumpkin they can carry from the field, food for animals in the petting zoo, and a 20-minute talk on farming.(4)

While having several tour farms in close proximity is always desirable, most farmers interested in agri-tourism develop individualistic farm attractions. Many herb farms open to the public include a tour of the different herbs they are growing, and may include "nature walks" to show wild plants in their native habitat—riverbank vegetation, scarce examples of native prairie, rock outcroppings, or natural woods. (Former pasture land or plowed ground let go to weeds is not recommended for a nature walk.) For a profile of an herb farm that offers tours, see the ATTRA publication Lavender Production, Products, Marketing, and Entertainment Farming.

Archeological sites are usually too fragile to become the focus of regular tours by the public. However, many farms have done well with re-creations of former eras.

Historical re-creations

Creating an agri-tourism attraction on your farm can be a lot of work and must be a labor of love. Some attractions grow out of the owners' hobby collections—old farm machinery, log buildings, heirloom seeds, old bird houses, even a narrow-gauge railroad. Most, however, are created new from the owner's concept—especially one that appeals to children.

A unique Iowa "little village"

A unique form of agri-entertainment is the "little village" run by Farn and Varlen Carlson of Stanhope, Iowa. The tiny community includes a school, general store, church, livery stable, and blacksmithy. Appropriate artifacts fill the buildings, which are one-half to two-thirds scale. The Carlsons hope to add a barber shop, telephone office, bandstand, and fire station. There is an admission charge for viewing all the buildings, and the Carlsons cater to bus tour groups. Groups can also arrange to have barbecues at the village. Special events scheduled during the year include a threshing bee, an ice cream social on Father's Day, Apple Cider Days in August, and a Christmas Stroll, when the Village is decorated for the season.(5)

Processing demonstrations

Wineries and microbreweries have long appealed to the public's fascination with how foods and beverages are made. Other possibilities are a water-powered grist milling, sorghum milling, apple butter making, cider pressing, maple sugaring, sheep shearing, wool processing—all activities with an old-timey flavor.

A rural theme park

Smiling Hills Farm, Westport, Maine , converted from a dairy farm into an agri-tourism business in the 1980s. The farm now draws 100,000 people a year and employs 100. Attractions include ice cream and sandwich sales, a petting zoo, a retreat center specializing in one-day mini-retreats, and activities for the 700 school children per day that may visit. Kids can climb in, on, and over a wooden train, a fire truck, and a small barn with a loft and places for cute photo opportunities. They can dig sand with kid-powered backhoes and steam shovels. Children mingle with animals in the petting barn area. Ducks and rabbits have the run of their own doll-house-like "Duck House" and "Rabbit House." Group activities include tours, birthday parties, summer farm programs, wagon and sleigh rides, Halloween and maple season events, and cross-country skiing and skating in the winter.

Crop art

Invite a crop artist to turn one of your cornfields into a work of art. It will be the talk of the country-side and may attract national media attention (especially if an actor dressed in a pale blue wetsuit with antennae on his head runs around and periodically pops up at unexpected times near the artworKB]. The crop art displayed by the fourteen Dutchess County, New York, farmers attracted thousands of visitors, including 1,000 school children, a month. Additional people came to their summer on-farm educational programs intended to strengthen urban ties to agriculture. Many farms that encourage school tours aim to build goodwill and long-term customers, rather than charging for the tours.(6)

Crop art runs the gamut from the fanciful sculptures of Dutchess County to floral designs, from designs mowed in a field to Halloween pumpkin displays like those seen on the Rohrbach Farm near St. Louis. Most crop art—at least in the Midwest—consists of designs cut into standing grain crops in a field, or alternatively, designs created by different colored plantings. Such crop art is best viewed from the air or from a raised structure. There have also been proposals for creating mound-like structures with Native American designs outlined in edible native plants, and there are agricultural mazes—which provide something to do as well as see. There are a number of full-time professional crop artists advertising on the Worldwide Web, as well as maze designers and franchisers. (Mazes are discussed more fully below.)

Madera County, California, farmer Darren Schmall originated the "Pizza Farm" concept, a subspecies of crop art. One field is devoted to a circular arrangement of crops and animals. Pie-shaped wedges of pepper plants, wheat, tomatoes, and so on represent pizza ingredients. Several sections house hogs and cattle (representing sausage and cheese). This is reportedly one of the fastest-growing types of crop art. Children use a coin-operated feed pellet machine to feed the animals.

Visitors expect to pay admission to farm attractions—even to view (and photograph) crop art. Maze operators generally charge admission. Joel Salatin advises farmers to build a haybale observation deck with a view of the maze, so that grandparents can take photos. Sales of food, beverages, and photographic supplies can take place here. Charge for some things, and give something away free. "While no one is certain that providing some activities free of charge improves the net return to the farm, they undoubtedly increase the farmer's gross receipts through increased customer traffic."(7)

Natural features

An outstanding natural feature on a farm may become a tourist attraction—a bluff or rock outcropping, a waterfall, a grove of persimmon trees, a stream, or a spectacular view. Water is a popular natural attraction; sometimes natural features of interest to a visitor may have been overlooked by the farmer.

Festivals/pageants/special events

Special events can mean either private parties or public events. They range from offering food, drink, and overnight accommodations to sportsmen to birthday parties, weddings, company picnics, and Halloween festivals. To put on an annual festival or pageant open to the public may be beyond the scope of all but the largest farm entertainment businesses. Individual farms often participate in a countywide or regional festival, with significant government and organizational sponsorship. A few farms are now hosting 700 to 1,000 visitors per day for their unique offerings. Farms along the road to well-known annual festivals can find many ways to participate in opportunities created by the increased tourist traffic.

Children's Activities for a Harvest Festival
  • Vegetable Contest (from children's gardens)
  • Vegetable Bingo (cards with names and/or pictures; veggie seed prize)
  • Flower Smashing (using rubber mallets to flatten flowers between thick sheets of paper, making nice, flower-patterned cards)
  • Vegetable Shape Mobiles (sticks and cutouts from old office paper)
  • Ecopots (newspapers made into little pots for planting seeds)
  • Chia Pets (paint faces on old footie stockings filled with soil and grass seed)
  • Potato Prints (tried and true)
  • Making Recycled Paper (need blender, water, flat strainers)
  • Hair Wreaths (raffia, flowers, ribbon)
  • Bookmarks (tried and true—wax paper, flowers, and an iron)
  • Root/Stem/Bud/Seed (kids have cards with words and must match to appropriate produce after brief lesson)
  • Seed Sprouts in Baggies (soaked bean seeds, paper towels, baggies)
  • Leaf Prints (leaves, crayons, paper)
(from Karen Guz, Horticulture Associate, Bexar County, Arizona , listserve: communitygardening@ag.arizona.edu, 6/25/98 )

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Things To Do

Farm schools/workshops/educational activities

The educational activities offered on farms range from day classes or short-term workshops to full-scale, accredited courses of study. Farm schools accommodate interns or apprentices, and some charge tuition for the learning opportunity. There are also farm schools geared toward residential living for the developmentally disabled. Many small herb or vegetable farms offer classes in cooking, arranging flowers, or making herbal medicines. They depend on these activities to help build a clientele for their main products.

Farms have traditionally offered field days, sometimes sponsored by a farm organization. Many tours are also considered educational.

Some of the best examples of farm diversification involve education. Two of the most notable are The Land Institute (which has just received a grant to launch a 50-year research project on perennial grains) and Heritage Farm, home of the Seed Savers Exchange and Seed Saver publications. Launching such an enterprise takes considerable connections, savvy, outside-the-box thinking, and dedication. It is a life's work dedicated to something beyond just farming, and is certainly not for everyone.

Many of the farms listed in the on-line database of Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships, maintained by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, have elements of an educational or entertainment farm. Several plantations on the Potomac River, including Mt. Vernon, have been turned into educational farms. The workers on Mt. Vernon grow 18th-Century crops and gardens, use 18th-Century tools, and dress in period costumes.

Accommodations for outdoor sports enthusiasts

Some farms adjacent to recreational areas build a business catering to the needs of visitors to those areas.

A farmer in Missouri opened a lunch counter for the convenience of parents bringing children to a nearby summer camp. Farmers in the Adirondacks regularly accommodate skiiers and hikers with shade, food, and drink, sometimes extending to overnight accommodations. A 1500-acre wheat farm on the Great Plains became a pheasant hunting ranch in the off-season, with a lodge and a gift shop (more about fee hunting below).

Petting zoos/children's amusements/playgrounds/horseback riding/hayrides

Old McDonald's Children's Village, Sacket's Harbor, is the largest petting farm in New York. Near Watertown, on the Seaway Trail, the Children's Village was started as a way to increase cash flow to expand a market hog and feeder pig business. Ponies, rabbits, ducks, lambs, baby goats, calves, and piglets are sure-fire attractions for city children (and their parents). Pony and wagon rides are part of the mix. Playgrounds and hayrides also provide something for children to do at Pick-Your-Own farms.

Balky Farms in Northfield, Massachusetts, invites school classes to visit during lambing season in March and April. Baby crias, pygmy goats, and bunnies are also winners. Cheviot, Dorset, and Navajo Churro sheep, geese, peacocks, emus, oxen, Black Angus cattle, relief heifers, miniature horses, and donkeys succeed with the more venturesome. Tendercrop Farm in Newbury offers "buffalo viewing," while Valley View in Charlemont hosts llama-picnic treks. More information on animal entertainment can be found in the 2004 NRCS publication Success Stories—Agritourism, Direct Marketing, Education, Conservation, Agritainment. (Call 1-888-LANDSCAPE)

Pick-Your-Own (U-PicKB]

In the 1970s U-pick farms were at their height of popularity. Families with three or four hungry teenagers and full-time homemakers were still common. Canning a couple of bushels of green beans or putting a flat of strawberries in the freezer helped out the family budget significantly. Raw materials were harder to come by than labor, compared with today. Canning has been all but eliminated today as a home activity because it represents a lost opportunity for the housewife to be gainfully employed, instead of receiving nothing for her hard work (i.e., the opportunity cost of labor) putting up the winter food supply. Small batches of gourmet recipes may be stored in the family freezer, but more than 50% of U.S. meals are now commercially prepared and eaten away from home. While U-pick operations can still be found, successful ones are most likely to be part of the whole entertainment-farm enterprise mix.

U-pick offers several advantages to farmers. They are relieved of the burden of finding and paying temporary seasonal labor at harvest time. This type of labor is becoming harder and harder to find. The hours are long and hot; the work, back-breaking. If people can be persuaded to pick as entertainment and get a few cents off per unit, the farmer is way ahead. However, sustainable farmer Kelly Klober has observed, "The whole premise of 'here we are/come out and get dirty picking our crops/then pay us handsomely for the privilege' is a hard sell"(8) in today's world and may depend on how attractively the experience can be packaged and how aggressively it is marketed. Above all, the average farmer's natural distaste for selling must be overcome and he must learn to think like a customer.

This means, at a minimum, creating adequate parking, having restrooms, having a safe entertainment area for small children, and working with an insurer on liability issues. Small children are best kept away from the picking area, as they contribute disproportionately to damaged crops and "inventory shrinkage." Attention to these basics will help build repeat sales, a primary goal of all direct marketing.

Related ATTRA Publications

U-pick operations do best when they are located within an hour's drive of a population center of at least 50,000 people. This stipulation leaves out much of the Midwest, mountain states, eastern Kentucky, and parts of the Deep South. U-pick is about selling to families who do not have the space to grow their own seasonal vegetables in quantities sufficient for canning and freezing. The mix of vegetables and fruits will depend on customers' tastes (constantly becoming more sophisticated), rather than on what can most easily be grown. Like other forms of entertainment farming, U-Pick will be adversely affected by any dramatic rise in the price of gasoline.

Themes for entertainment farming

Most entertainment farming depends in large part on attracting visitors from urban centers. Your neighbors in all likelihood won't be your customers. Something about your farm must be so distinctive that it draws people from long distances—even Canada or Europe. Perhaps you could invite a Native American group to hold regular pow-wows on your land; you operate the food concession and give tours of your farm dressed in a pioneer costume. Hold a summer festival. Add a historical garden to increase the draw. Add a gift shop, an antique shop, a lunch counter, crafts, botanical products. Add a herd of buffalo. People will come from Europe to see a herd of buffalo or prehistoric White Park cattle when they won't cross the road to see your prized Black Angus. Have a widely publicized farm festival—harvest festivals with music and plenty of good food and drink, and maybe face painting and personalized cupcakes. In the fall, public schools emphasize the American fall holidays, in which the pumpkin plays a significant role. Pumpkins are easy to grow, readily available, large, and colorful. Invite busloads of schoolchildren to visit your farm.

Following the disastrous Missouri/Mississippi River flood in 1993, the Rohrbach Farm, 50 miles from St. Louis, turned a significant portion of corn/soybean acreage into an entertainment farm featuring pumpkins. One field became a parking lot, with ample room for tour buses. When visitors come (by busloads) to view the large, attractive, free crop-art displays constructed by the Rohrbach clan, few leave without buying a pumpkin or something from the farm store.

The pumpkins are, of course, not pumpkins of eating quality. Those pumpkins remaining after the season is over are taken out into the woods to compost. One lesson the modern farmer learns, according to Joel Salatin, is that you have to accept a certain amount of waste and have to give something away free at times. (For a more complete account of activities at the Rohrbach Farm, see the ATTRA publication Direct Marketing and the Winter 1999 issue of USDA's Small Farm News).


Mazes are another option. In 1993 Don Frantz (a former Disney producer) created a 3.3-acre dinosaur maze in a Pennsylvania cornfield, and later created the American Maze Company, now producing increasingly elaborate mazes around the country and advertising on the Internet. The success of this farm entertainment venture has inspired a number of competitors throughout the American Cornbelt. Frantz says, "We try to keep them entertained for about two hours (about the length of a movie), and charge them about what they'd pay for a movie." He recommends good crowd control, ample restroom facilities, refreshments, and other farm products to sell. Most important is an integrated marketing plan, which the top maze designers now all sell as part of their design packages.

Maze puts Colorado farmer in the black

A cornfield "Bronco" maze has put the Glen Fritzler 350-acre vegetable farm in the black for the first time in 10 years. Busloads of school-children and tourists pay $6 each to walk through the maze, created by Utah designer Brett Herbst's patented process. By the fall of 2000 Herbst had done 61 mazes. The Bronco is, of course, the mascot of Denver's professional football team.

Herbst gets a fee for the design and a percentage of the gate. The Fritzler family mans the ticket booth and sells t-shirts, often until 10 p.m. on weekends. Fritzler is thankful to have found a good way out of the agriculture boom-bust cycle by offering to entertain the public and create a new stream of steady income. For more information on Fritzler's maze, call 970-737-2129.

From the listserve Market Farming, Sept. 12, 2000. Market-farming@franklin.oit.unc.edu.

The Jamberry Farm, Madill, Oklahoma, features a 3-acre maze, funded in part by a grant from the Kerr Center in Poteau, Oklahoma. Visitors pay $5 to walk through the maze and the farm's 5-acre pumpkin patch (or ride a hay wagon). The farm also features a picnic area, a playground, and pumpkin sales.

Personnel from the nearby Noble Foundation assisted in setting up the maze.

Joel Salatin's List of Farm Activities
Petting zoo Straw bale maze Baked treats
Arts and crafts Hay rides Haunted house
Homemade toys Miniature golf Full food service
Observation deck Company parties Catering
Pumpkin patch Face painting Concessions
Bonfire with marshmallows    

See Appendix B for more ideas about entertainment farming enterprises.

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Things To Buy

The bottom line for most entertainment farms is how much you can sell—either now or later—to the people attracted to your farm. Surprisingly, many farmers feel that even farmers' markets are primarily useful in building a steady customer base, not in daily sales. These potential customers will get to know you and later seek you out to meet their unique needs. This is the principle of "relationship marketing." Sell to people who come to know you and count you as a friend. Your farm store or gift shop should display your farm's finest products to maximum advantage to build repeat sales.

Food and drink

Outdoor activities on a warm day will make anyone thirsty. Ready-to-eat food and a selection of beverages are part of the experience of your entertainment farm. They can also be a profit center. Be as creative as you can, and try to have refreshments that fit your farm's theme.

Tip: Farmers who have become successful in value-added enterprises typically find retail profits so attractive that they begin to purchase, rather than grow, much of their raw material. The farm then takes on the character of a land-based business enterprise, not just a producer of commodities. Think about it.

If you operate a winery, you will naturally have your products displayed. Think of opportunities for selling cold beverages to the grandparents photographing the maze, the u-pickers, the children who have just done 100 turns on the slide out on the miniature haymow. On a recent visit to an herb farm, I was offered the opportunity to buy a commercially bottled nutraceutical drink—containing St. Johnswort, valerian, and guarana. Apple cider is a good drink for the Midwest, and people may want to buy a gallon to take home.

Homemade ice cream, sandwiches, fresh fruit, barbecue, and roasting ears are all possibilities for ready-to-eat food sales.

Gifts and souvenirs

There is a huge industry overseas manufacturing regional souvenirs for the U.S. If at all possible, have your gift items represent your farm, something that is actually produced locally. Stick to a theme, something that truly represents the uniqueness of your farm and your region. Items for sale on an herb entertainment farm can include everything from potted rosemary plants to a complete set of essential oils for aromatherapy. Wood carvings (traditionally done in the slow winter months), dolls, quilts, basketry, wheat weavings, pottery, packets of heirloom seeds, and decorative items such as fresh and dried flowers, pumpkins, corn shocks, and handloomed wool—as well as foods, such as meats, cheeses, other milk products, and winter squash—are all possibilities. One farmer realized that decorative shocks were worth more than his corn. Another sold echinacea flowers when the bottom dropped out of the market for echinacea root. Research by the North Central Region Extension Service revealed that wood is the medium preferred by tourists for crafts. This research also determined that women probably don't charge enough for the craft items they market, since men typically charge two to four times as much.

You will need an approved commercial kitchen for any value-added food products produced on the farm. This type of facility can cost $100,000 or more—if, typically, you must build a separate building from the ground up. You will need access to an approved slaughterhouse for any meat products. (For more information, see Joel Salatin's book.) Alternatives include a cooperative community kitchen or renting a commercial kitchen. Cornell University is even developing a mobile commercial kitchen. Be familiar with your state's processing regulations if you are planning to sell on-farm processed food to the public State health departments or departments of agriculture, universities, and business incubators can assist.

Shopping at the farm store

Maureen Rogers of The Herbal Connection provides this advice (originally from Bottom Line/Business, 1/97).

The key to successful retailing for [the next few years] will be to make shopping not merely pleasant but entertaining as well. Despite the growth of catalog shopping, consumers will continue to go to stores. But the stores they visit will be the ones where they not only find what they like at the right price, but where they can have a good time. Bookstores with coffee bars are a good example.

A 1992 study of tourists' shopping habits, conducted by the North Central Regional Extension Services, determined that "after meals and lodging, [tourists] spend most of their tourist dollars on clothing, crafts, and local food products. Almost 70 percent buy gifts for future events and for mementos" (Small Farm News, September-October, 1993, p. 3). Consider installing a convenient automatic teller machine (ATM).(9)

Farmers must be prepared to sell themselves as well as their businesses, so image is all-important. People want to see an attractive facility and personnel—neat and clean. Location and appearance are the most important aspects of a farm business that caters to the public— not necessarily price.

Remember that return customers are the key to success. Eighty percent of your business comes from 20% of your customers, and it takes five times as much money/time/effort to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one.

A Maine farm store

In the mid-1980s Gregg and Gloria Varney bought his parents' Maine farm after they sold their dairy herd. The farm included excellent crop land. The Varneys' first farm business was Gloria's yarn shop, which started people coming to their farm. This became the impetus for the Varneys to expand their offerings at the farm store to include their own meats (beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey), raw milk, and baked goods. In 1994, with the help of apprentices, Gloria and Gregg implemented a five-year plan to "learn how to make cheese and raise small scale animals with minimal grain purchases." After initially hitting a wall when they realized they needed a state-inspected cheese facility and pasteurizer that could cost $10,000, they arranged to borrow the money from future customers, paying off the loans with food from the store. For example, a $100 loan could be redeemed at a later time for $110 worth of farm-raised food.

The goat-cheese operation has been a huge success, and it allows an April to November schedule that fits in well with their farmers' market schedule and the Thanksgiving season, giving them a break from the end of November for the next six months. In 1995 the Varneys became 100% organic with the conversion of the dairy cow operation. They now have more than 100 organic cows.

Their product line in the farm store has expanded, as well. Surplus vegetables go into value-added products such as pickles, relishes, and stewed tomatoes. Other excess is used to feed the pigs and chickens. This integrated operation is a big hit with customers, who now have no question about where their food originates. People now come to the farm not just to buy their food but to spend time there and let their children see the animals.(10)

The Varney Farm is not the only farm in Maine oriented toward tourism, and there are regularly scheduled regional farm tours. Tickets to farm daytrip tours in Maine, generally including two or three farms in a single county, cost $12 to $15 per person, with children under 12 free. Lunch is extra.

Highlight a garden path

Appleton Creamery is a small-scale goat farm and dairy where Brad and Caitlin Hunter also grow flowers and organic vegetables, including many heirloom varieties. Brad, a home brewer and wine maker, has included in the garden two essential ingredients for beer and wine—hops and grapes. A collection of bird houses surrounds the traditional cottage garden, where the Hunters grow edible flowers and herbs to use in the farm's goat cheeses, and a path through the garden leads to the barn, where visitors can see the goats.

The grounds also house "garden sculpture" created out of found objects—old farm equipment, flea market furniture, cast-off children's toys.

Nature-based tourism

A further option for recreational farming is leasing wooded land or marginal cropland for hunting, fishing, or hiking. Hunting leases are the most common form of recreation leases and can range from one-day trespass fees to guided trips and lodging. Of course liability, licenses, and regulations are important considerations in planning for a recreational lease.(11) Such use can sometimes be combined with overnight lodging, campgrounds, and a farm store. Texas A&M University has a program at its La Copita Ranch to train land managers in hosting this type of tourism.

For information and technical advice on licenses and regulations, contact local offices of the following agencies.

  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • State Department of Natural Resources

Another source of information on hunting leases is Managing Your Farm for Lease Hunting and a Guide to Developing Hunting Leases.(12)


With a click of the mouse a worldwide audience can gain access to your information. More and more sites featuring particular farms and selling farm products directly to consumers are joining the organization-sponsored producer directories now on-line. Some farm Web sites are listed in ATTRA's Direct Marketing publication.


Liability issues for farms that host the public are generally resolved with appropriate insurance. Insurance needs will vary by operation. Neil Hamilton's book The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing provides guidance on choosing and consulting with an independent insurance agent (see Resources, below). Insurance representatives can provide guidance on specific steps for reducing risks of your operation. A new database on farm injuries can be found at the National Ag Safety Database site.

Specific examples of how individual farms have handled insurance needs may be found in the NRCS publication Success Stories—Agritourism, Direct Marketing, Education, Conservation, Agritainment. (Call 1-888-LANDSCAPE.)

Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Modifications to allow the differently abled access to your farm attraction include the following.

  • space reserved for handicapped parking
  • a farmstand with a hard packed or paved surface
  • one bathroom accessible to the handicapped (can be rented)
  • a ramp to a platform that's slightly higher than the hay wagon (for handicapped access to hayrides)
  • a "long reacher" for apple picking
  • raised beds for strawberry picking
  • for seasonal events, a sign saying, "If you need assistance…"
  • large-print signs, brochures, or audiotapes of brochures
  • door openings at least 32 inches wide (to accommodate wheelchairs) and doors able to be opened with a closed fist (knobs are out)
  • rugs taped to the floor with velcro
Guarding against risks to children on the farm
Age 0–5
Careful supervision by adults. Physical barriers such as locks and fences. Safe distractions. No riding on farm machinery.
Age 5–10
Consistent rules; discussing safe behavior; careful supervision of activities.
Age 10–16
Consistent rules, with consequences for infractions and rewards for safe behavior.
Age 16–18
Prohibition of drugs and alcohol. Emphasis on acceptance of adult responsibilities. Opportunity to be role models for younger children.

An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) representative will usually be glad to come out and advise you on specifics.

Risks incurred when the public is invited to a farm may include soil compaction, damage to orchards and crops, litter, and of course increased liability. Such costs have been estimated at $1 to $2 per visitor, which should be factored into fees and prices.

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Conclusion: The New Outlook

Professor Duncan Hilchey of the Cornell Sustainable Agriculture program advises American farmers:

Growers have to adopt a new outlook and switch their thinking away from production toward giving today's consumers what they want. That might include farm tours, value-added products, or even adding a petting zoo. People come out to the farm these days not so much to buy large quantities of produce, but for the immersion experience for themselves and their children. They are looking for a farm-fresh feeling—not just food.(6)

The University of California's Small Farm Center has developed an on-line agricultural tourism directory to provide tourists with an easy way to "search for a farm experience." Farm proprietors interested in a listing are encouraged to contact the Center.(13) A national agri-tourism database complements those developed by Illinois, Texas, and other states.

The number-one requirement for a successful agri-entertainment venture is an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. A willingness to think unconventionally may be equally important. Whatever you do, do it with a flair for showmanship. Let your creative side come out. With enough thought, ingenuity, determination, and capital, almost any farm anywhere could be adapted to agri-entertainment. Stiff-necked individualism and suspicion of change work against success in entertainment farming. A willingness to provide what the public truly wants and is willing to pay for is the way to success. Just as the railroad barons of the 19th century needed to start thinking of themselves as being in the transportation business (instead of the railroad business) in order to compete successfully in the 20th; so the farmers of the 21st century must begin thinking of themselves as being in the land management business, rather than the farming business, in order to reach their farm family goals and dreams.


National: www.farmstop.com

California: www.calagtour.org

Texas Nature Tourism Database and Workbook: www.rpts.tamu.edu/tce/NT/

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1) Salatin, Joel. 1998. You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and $ucceed in a Farming Enterprise. Polyface Inc., Swope, VA. 480 p.

2) Klonsky, Karen et al. 1993. Marketing crafts and tourist products. Small Farm News. September–October. p. 3. [article based on a survey of 1,400 farm crafts marketers by North Central Regional Extension Service, University of Nebraska ]

3) Buck, Cathy. 1995. Ag tourism opens opportunities; Crop art is more than pretty pictures. American Agriculturist. September. p. 7.

4) Hancock, Gael. 2000. Pick-your-own methods for marketing your pick-your-own farm. AgVentures. August–September. p. 10.

5) Beetler, Dianne L. 1996. On-farm tourist attraction. Small Farm Today. October. p. 52–53.

6) Hilchey, Duncan. 1993. Agritourism: Opportunities and Challenges. Farming Alternatives. Summer. p. 1.

7) Hilchey, Duncan. 1999. Regional food identity. Farming Alternatives. Summer. p. 1.

8) Klober, Kelly. 2000. U-Pick Marketing. Small Farm Today. May. p. 41–42.

9) Kuerstenberg, Kelly. 2003. ATMs on the farm and at the market. The Seasonal Marketer. January. p. 1.

10) Adapted from Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener (MOFGA) News. June-August 2000. p. 27.

11) Elias, Debra. 1996. Recreational Leases. Minnesota CRP Information Series. December. 2 p.

12) Delaware Cooperative Extension Service. 1988. Managing Your Farm for Lease Hunting and a Guide to Developing Hunting Leases. No. 147. DCES, Georgetown , DE .

13) Small Farm Center
University of California
One Shields Ave.
Davis, CA 95616-8699
530-752-7716 FAX

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Comprehensive (compact disKB]

USDA/NRCS. 2004. Alternative Enterprises and Agri-tourism, Farming for Profit and Sustainability—Tool Kit (CD). 2500 p. To order, call 1-888-LANDSCAPE or see www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/RESS/altenterprise/resmanual.html

Agricultural tourism business development

Agri-Business Council of Oregon. 2003. Agri-Tourism Workbook. 110 p. www.aglink.org

Cornell University Materials

  • Agritourism (Resource Packet)
  • Agritourism in New York: Opportunities and Challenges in Farm-Based Recreation and Hospitality (Publication)
  • Considerations for Agritourism Development (Publication)
  • Farming Alternatives: A Guide to Evaluating the Feasibility of New Farm-Based Enterprises (Publication)

May be ordered from:
Educational Resources Program: 607-255-9252
Media Services: 607-255-2080
Community Food and Agriculture Program: 607-255-9832 or 255-4413

Is a Farm/Ranch Recreation Business for You? http://ces.uwyo.edu/pubs/B1125-1.pdf [PDF/97KB]

Hamilton, Neil. 1999. The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. Drake University Press, Cedar Rapids, IA. 235 p.

University of Minnesota. 2003. Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, St. Paul, MN.

$14.00 plus 3.95 s/h; 411 Borlaug Hall, St. Paul, MN 55108; 1-800-909-MISA. Misamail@umn.edu. Make checks payable to University of Minnesota.

USDA/AMS. 2000. Direct Marketing Today: Challenges and Opportunities. 58 p. www.ams.usda.gov/directmarketing/DirectMar2.pdf

Order publication from: velma.lakins@usda.gov.

Articles of general interest

Adam, Katherine. 2002. Agritourism: Profit from your lifestyle. Mother Earth News. June–July. p. 18.

Jolly, Desmond. 1999. Agricultural tourism: Emerging opportunity. Small Farm News. Summer. p. 1, 4–5.

Jolly, Desmond, and Jeanne McCormack. 1999. Agri-tourism: A desperate last straw? Small Farm News. Fall. p. 2.

Lyson, Thomas. 2000. Some thoughts on civic agriculture. Farming Alternatives [Cornell]. p. 1, 4.

A substantial number of smaller-scale, locally oriented, flexibly organized farms and food producers are taking root [to] fill the geographic and economic spaces passed over or ignored by large … producers. These farms will articulate with consumer demand for locally produced and processed food. Civic agriculture is not only a source of family income for the farmer, but contributes to the social, economic, political and cultural health and vitality of the communities in which they exist.

McCue, Susan. 1999. Successful agricultural tourism ventures. Small Farm News. Summer. p. 1, 6–7.

SAN. 2000. Marketing Strategies: Farmers and Ranchers Reap New Profits. Small Farm Today. May. p. 35–38.

Appendix A

Checklist of Agri-tourism Development Considerations*

Agri-tourism businesses

[   ] Personal evaluation
[   ] Market evaluation
[   ] Project feasibility evaluation
[   ] Financial evaluation
[   ] Business plan development
[   ] Marketing plan development
[   ] Insurance needs
[   ] Regulations and permits

Farm festivals

[   ] Planning committee
[   ] Festival mission
[   ] Location of festival
[   ] Licenses and permits
[   ] Attractions, entertainment, food
[   ] Budget strategy
[   ] Promotional campaign
[   ] Insurance needs
[   ] Management considerations
[   ] Public safety plan
[   ] Evaluation


Farmers' markets

[   ] Market coordinator
[   ] Planning meetings
[   ] Advisory committee
[   ] Organizational structure
[   ] Visitor market groups
[   ] Location of market
[   ] Vendor fees
[   ] Promotional campaign
[   ] Insurance needs
[   ] Appearance of market
[   ] Customer amenities inventory
[   ] Vendor support and policies
[   ] Coupon programs
[   ] Evaluation


Regional agri-tourism planning

[   ] Region identification
[   ] Community involvement
[   ] Concerns about development
[   ] Visitor market groups
[   ] Planning sessions
[   ] Goals and objectives
[   ] Resource and attraction
[   ] Theme
[   ] Action plan
[   ] Promotional plan
[   ] Evaluation

* from: Kuehn, Diane et al. 1998. Considerations for Agri-tourism Development. p. 1.

Appendix B: Some Successful Entertainment Farming Enterprises and Techniques (farm recreation and hospitality businesses)

Wineries with Friday happy hours Educational tours Historical re-creations
Arts & crafts demonstrations Farm schools Living history farms
Farm stores K-12 schools Heirloom plants and animals
Roadside stands Outdoor Schools Civil War plantations
Processing demonstrations Challenge Schools Log buildings
Cider pressing Movement-based retreat centers Maple sugaring
Antique villages Native American villages Sheep shearing
Herb walks Frontier villages Wool processing
Workshops Collections of old farm machinery Sorghum milling
Festivals Miniature villages Apple butter making
Cooking demos Farm theme playgrounds for children Fee fishing/hunting
Pick-your-own Fantasylands Farm vacations
Pumpkin patches Gift shops Bed and breakfasts
Rent-an-apple tree Antiques Farm tours
Moonlight activities Crafts Horseback riding
Pageants Crafts demonstrations Crosscountry skiing
Speakers Food sales Camping
Regional themes Lunch counters Hayrides
Mazes Cold drinks Sleigh rides
Crop art Restaurants Rest areas for snowmobilers or cross-country skiers
Pancake breakfasts during sugaring season Pizza farms Themes (apple town, etc.)
Bad weather accommodations Native prairies preservation Picnic grounds
Tastings August "Dog Days"—50% off dogwoods if customer brings picture of family dog, etc. Shady spots for travelers to rest
Buffalo Campgrounds Hieroglyphics, rock art
Dude ranches Indian mounds, earthworks art Hunting lodges


Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism
By Katherine L. Adam
NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Copyright © 2004 National Center for Appropriate Technology
Edited by Paul Williams
Formatted by Jenn Vieth
Version 111004


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This page was last updated on: August 28, 2014