Sprouts: To get started in agri-tourism, first, know thy self | TheFencePost.com

Sprouts: To get started in agri-tourism, first, know thy self

Kathy Rickart | Co-Manager, Tigges Farm Produce and Pumpkin Patch

Hopefully you are reading this second of this series because you are contemplating taking that "leap" into agri-tourism, or you have already and feel you are struggling without any established guidelines.

Don't feel alone. Just as each plant, each snowflake, each farm and every aspect of agriculture is uniquely different, it all has one thing in common – the roots. Just like Grandma's homemade soup, there is no exact recipe but the ingredients are basically the same – more of one thing, less of another, depending on the year, but never without the basics.

So you need to identify your basic ingredients and then season it with your new tourism ingredients. We, at Tigges Farm, have identified five building blocks and one is today's topic – Know thy self!

The identity of the farm is one part of knowing thy self. This will be the foundation of your agri-tourism business. Do you have an agriculture heritage, legacy or tradition to preserve or is there a futuristic theme to pursue?

“These will be the details you will return to when making decisions down the road. It must be authentic. It must fit the farm.”

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Tigges Farm had a promise to keep in that it would remain a working farm. The farm has been in the family since 1936 and generation three is managing it now.

The farm has always been a safe place for children to enjoy and to learn about world of agriculture. Fall was about the harvest, not the holiday. In a few words, we identified the farm as a legacy to preserve, a farm for small children to enjoy and a place to buy fresh produce.

The identity of the core staff or decision-makers is the other part of knowing thy self. Start by looking in the mirror. The management staff must know themselves and their unique skills and apply those skills to their roles.

Tigges Farm is lucky to have three siblings that are highly and uniquely skilled, knowledgeable and vastly different but maintain the same vision and are unanimously dedicated to the definition of the farm.

One is the farmer, the master of the soil, the plants, the water and someone who can weld, fix, repair, build, carpenter and just plain farm. One is an organizer and networker and can figure seed orders, manage bookkeeping, market, network with other farmers, commercial buyers, programs and organizations.

One is a nurturer, the negotiator, the one that can see two sides of the problem or the solution and objectively evaluate them.

Together, linked by blood and bonded by trust, respect and a true regard for family, it's a team major corporations could only wish to have.

So identify what your core staff brings to the table and see if all the bases are covered or if administrative support staff needs to be brought on board.

To take the leap to agri-tourism, you need to take these first two steps further – you need to expand it to include your tourism identity. It needs to expand to include the visitor. You will no longer be an island to yourself. You are officially inviting people to the farm. So who are you inviting and why would they even want to come?

For Tigges Farm, it was easy to identify the target audience (who we are inviting) in that it was a safe place to grow up and we wanted to share that experience by being a safe place for young families to visit. Young families are our target audience.

Next identify what would make the farm unique for that target audience.

It could be something you are already doing and want to expand upon or a whole new set of activities that knit your target audience and the farm together.

It doesn't have to be done all at once. It can be done in baby steps.

It is better to do a few things each year with excellence than to do too much poorly. Tigges Farm began with one weekend of activities, then grew to several let's-try-this weekend activities, then to five purposely planned "themed" weekends of activities. Events continue to expand in a myriad of directions as it remains a working farm while becoming a tourism site.

The things we identified that we wanted to continue at Tigges Farm were:

• Free admission with the doors open weekdays, not just weekends.

• Maintaining a working farm and produce stand with roasted chilies.

• Nothing scary at the farm.

• Field trips for child care centers and elementary schools, which can include visits to a farm equipment museum

• Picture places, farm-related art, crafts and products.

• Activities during peak pumpkin-picking season.

The things we decided we wanted to do to enhance what we were already doing includes:

• Additional activities that are authentic to farm life.

• More outlets for produce such as garden centers, and food and beverage outlets.

• Visits by other groups that need a safe environment, such as challenged adults and aging seniors.

• More educational activities for the general public, field trips and self-guided materials for the museum and rural art at the farm.

• Expansion of activities to five themed weekends, identification of new themes that are farm related, heritage rooted and supportive of national farm educational efforts.

New things we have added are:

• Development activity or workshop partnerships with small businesses or organizations to cross-promote and to model how urban and rural can work together.

Every farm will have a unique "Know Thy Self" building block. Yes, some of the pieces might be the neighbors or businesses down the road, but the combination of the pieces will make it unique. A niche is developed when you take those unique attributes and turn them into tourism efforts aimed at your target audience.

There will only be one Tigges Farm "Know Thy Self" building block, and so it will be for your agri-tourism business. The key is to have a "Knowing Thy Self" building block when you begin, one that that is based on the foundation, the legacy, the dreams or all three. These will be the details you will return to when making decisions down the road.

It must be authentic. It must fit the farm.

So until next time, spend some time getting to know thy self – the one now and the one you want to be on the road to agri-tourism. Get it down on paper. It is your kick-starting point and your reference point as you move to building block two, to be featured in the next installment: "Use a Road Map!" ❖

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns from Tigges Farm on agri-tourism.

As part of The Fence Post’s dedication to fostering agriculture, we will run a regular feature to support new farmers and new farm endeavors called, “Sprouts”. In these, we hope to offer ideas, resources and information to help new farm or ranch operations get off the ground.

“Sprouts” may include how-to instructions, interviews or a variety of other content, all dedicated to helping ag grow strong.

If you have a topic you would like to learn more about or share with others, contact The Fence Post editor Kayla Young at kyoung@thefencepost.com.