Sprouts: Using agri-tourism to complement a working farm
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns from Tigges Farm on agri-tourism. If you have an agri-business tips or ideas you would like to share with The Fence Post readers, contact the editor, Kayla Young, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A working farm and tourism – how do you make these two ends meet successfully? And why would you even want to take a working farm in the direction of tourism? We at Tigges Farm in Greeley, Colo., found ourselves at this crossroad question and needing to make a decision in 2013. So how did we get there and how did we proceed once we decided to enter the world of agri-tourism? Let me give you some background first about our small farm operation and what lead into agri-tourism.
Tigges Farm has been a working farm for three generations, beginning in 1936 when Phillip and Lucy Tigges decided to settle down in rural Weld County with a farm. This farm provided for their family and in the 1940s it continued to provide, as a working farm, for their son and his wife, Robert and Mary Tigges, and family.
As the years progressed through the decades, the farm saw many changes from growing corn, beans, sugar beets and alfalfa, to adding a dairy and then gravel mining to maintain enough income to provide for the family operating it at the time. In 2009, the third generation siblings, Ken Tigges, now owner/manager, and Gale Loeffler and Kathy Rickart, now co-managers, were handed the reigns of managing the farm with the promise to their mother they would keep it a working farm.
With supplemental incomes, this has been possible. But now the goal would be to make the farm a viable choice for a family of the next, the fourth generation, as a choice with an income sustaining enough for a family to not have to supplement it with an outside income so they can continue the working farm legacy.
This quiet, simple produce stand began in the mid-1980s after Robert Tigges passed away and his wife, Mary Tigges, decided to pursue her lifelong dream of a produce stand with the help of her son, Ken Tigges, who had farmed along with his dad all his life. Through the years, the pumpkin patch grew in popularity, then green chilies were added and they also grew in popularity. When Ken started roasting the chilies in the late 90s, a greenhouse was needed to meet the growing demands. The produce stand stayed fairly quiet during August and September while the pumpkin patch continually grew in popularity in October. In 2009 Mary Tigges passed away and Ken, the farmer, looked to his retired sisters Kathy Rickart and Gale Loeffler to help manage the produce stand and assist with whatever farming they could. The 2009 season, after our mother’s death in July, was the year to just get through and discover our roles in the operation and what talents we could pool to make a true three-some operation.
In 2010, with three siblings at the helm with very unique talents, skills and knowledge, they started aiming at making Tigges Farm and Produce Stand a signature place to visit each fall. Farmer Ken, as many community members know him, and jack-of-all-trades, as most successful farmers need to be, pursued infrastructure improvements he had been thinking about for some time. The outward appearance of the produce stand was gaining roadside appeal bringing in people that “just drove by for years.”
The simple produce stand, with produce only, changed too. Sisters, Kathy and Gale, added their homemade and creative art items that could be purchased as gifts. It wasn’t long and homemade gifts of other family members adorned the walls and racks of the stand, along with the produce. Not only did the outside of the stand begin to interest those driving buy, and the comment of finding a “diamond in the dust” became commonplace when they came inside.
Being retired Colorado State University Extension Service Directors, Kathy and Gale, also applied their many career gained skills of marketing, advertising, organizing, keeping records and evaluating to the farm operation.
In 2010 the first brochure was developed and effort was put into marketing the farm. A craft workshop in September was added to encourage people to venture to the farm more than for pumpkins in October. After all, we opened in August and didn’t see hardly anyone until October. The events drew more people each year and began making big impacts. It was apparent the road ahead was leading to taking a deliberate leap into agri-tourism while maintaining the legacy of a “working farm.” We just didn’t know we were headed there yet.
In 2011, effort was put into actually marketing the farm and news releases were sent to papers and a chile salsa contest was added to just add some fun to the farm in early October. The pumpkin patch was still growing in popularity, but the stand was still very quiet. Kathy decided that year to give her husband memories instead of presents for his 70th birthday and arranged for him to be the honored guest on the first ride of a Conestoga wagon pulled by draft horses at the farm, since his birthday is always on one of the busiest pumpkin patch weekends in October. The rides continued for two hours for customers to just enjoy while they were there.
We had accidentally stumbled onto agri-tourism with the Conestoga wagon rides, but it took the general public to point it out to us. The customers were asking about the Conestoga wagon ride the next year, 2012, when we didn’t have them.
In 2013 we brought the Conestoga wagon rides back for one day on one weekend. We developed a calendar of events with other planned events and activities. So began the humble beginnings of agri-tourism for Tigges Farm.
For those of you who are wondering if the working farm aspect was getting lost in this agri-tourism decision, the answer is no. The working farm is a major piece of the agri-tourism as the pumpkin patch and the roasted chilies are still the draw but the fun factor makes the farm visit an outing for the local community and tourist spot for visitors in the area.
It’s not one way or the other, it is a marriage of two really good things. There was a conscious decision to take the leap into agri-tourism when we ended the 2013 season.
Then the Greeley Chamber of Commerce asked us to share the steps we took because they recognized it as a successful agri-tourism site in the area. Most CEOs would say “sure” and pull out their plan of work and just share it. We said “sure” and headed for the drawing board. There was nothing on paper. Tigges Farm was “flying by the seat of their pants” in the pursuit of agri-tourism.
Accepting the chamber’s challenge to do a presentation provided the opportunity for the three of us to look back on what had been done, what the unwritten plan had been, what guidelines did we informally use and to just check to see if the three of us were truly on the same sheet of music before we shared what worked for Tigges Farm.
We did have a plan of work, we were united in what we thought, what we wanted to do and needed to do, but we just didn’t have it on paper. Thanks to the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, our plan was put on paper and it has and will continue to serve us well and will expand as we grow and require us to periodically update it.
We will be the first to admit what we share in the future articles of this series will not apply to everyone across the board. It is not “one shoe fits all.” If you can grasp the concepts and adapt it to your own business, it will be a good outline to work from. It will have to be tailored to “fit” your own agri-tourism venture. It will be easier for small operations to customize it than for big operations that might just find pieces and parts they can incorporate, since we are a small farm. We will even gamble a bet that not one of the plans using our concepts or ideas will end up resembling what we did. So until the next issue – and we hope to see you back – we will begin sharing our five agri-tourism building blocks that are:
• Know thy self.
Use a road map.
If the shoe fits, do it!
Toot your own horn.
Share the harvest and count your blessings.
We just knew it wouldn’t make a lot of sense unless we gave you a background of Tigges Farm and know that some of you will recognize it as similar to your farm history.
If you are toying with the idea of agri-tourism and you are a small farm, this might be just the encouragement you need to take the leap also. ❖