Yesterday RAFFL hosted a workshop on agritourism. The goal of the workshop was to help local farmers explore the costs and benefits of engaging in any type of agritourism from starting an on farm bed & breakfast to offering a self-guided farm story-walk open to the public. A great panel of speakers presented on a wide-ranging variety of topics. Beth Kennett of Vermont Farms! and Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, VT. Beth has run a bed and breakfast on her family’s dairy farm since 1984. Beth was able to underscore the necessity of “doing it right.” She reminded folks that when we invite folks onto our Vermont farms whether for a farm tour, a farm dinner or a farm-stay, we are representing not only the state of Vermont but also agriculture as a whole. Beth was also able to underscore to farmers the importance of having the right insurance and safety plans in place.
Londa Nwadike, Food Safety Specialist with UVM Extension, spoke about food safety concerns when serving food to the public. Londa emphasized food safe practices, the importance of signage and hand washing stations for guests visiting with animals, and the different types of licensing necessary to operate a food business in Vermont. Londa has some helpful fact sheets on these topics on her website.
Dan from Durkee Insurance in Fair Haven spoke about the importance of insurance, different types of insurance policies available to farmers, and what one would need to be covered. He emphasized the liability farmers take on when inviting the public onto their farm. He was able to advise about policies available and which policy different types of farm businesses would need. For example, did you know that if you are selling unprocessed sap that you would be covered under a farm policy but that if you boil that sap into syrup you are now a food processor and would need a different type of insurance, or at least an endorsement to your farm policy, to be covered? All of our panelists helped Dan to underscore the importance of having a good relationship with your insurance agent with open and honest communication and full disclosure of all farming activities in which you engage (even if it is hosting a farm dinner just once per year!).
After some focus on liability and safety concerns we got into the fun stuff! Rachel and Cat from Shelburne Farms began their presentation by dressing Cat up as a cow as an example of one of the educational games they play with kids. The women then asked the audience to brainstorm the reasons we engage in agritourism, despite the challenges it may present. The group came up with some compelling answers listing, community engagement, education for our next generation of farmers and legislators (and everyone in between), sharing our experience as farmers and helping people connect with their food system to name a few. Rachel and Cat shared some great on-farm education resources from Shelburne Farms and Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day). They recommended the reference book Project Seasons, developed by Shelburne Farms as a resource for farm and nature activities for kids. They also showed us the resource booklet Connecting Farms to Schools and Communities which is part of the VT FEED Toolkit.
BJ Hathaway spoke last sharing stories about his family's farm, Hathaway Farm, which now derives a large portion of its income from its agritourism ventures. BJ explained that the family had always had a knack for hospitality, beginning with his grandmother serving sugar on snow to local kids out of her home to the development of a now twelve-acre corn maze (largest in VT!), a livestock barn open to visitors, and a large farm store. BJ entertained the group with some funny stories and offered advice on working with the public and having a good time!
From this workshop I learned that creating an agritourism component on a farm can be complicated and challenging but could become an incredibly worthwhile and invaluable aspect of a farm that chooses to embrace it. Agritourism can provide much-needed income in a bad crop year, and can also provide a chance to educate people about the food system and the environment, and can foster a close connection with the community.