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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Articles/Press Releases

Experiential-Based Activities
Can Increase Farm Income

By: Jane Eckert

Last month, I wrote about a wonderful farm stop at the Torciano Winery in the Tuscany region of Italy.  The owner, Pierlugi, totally entertained the crowd in an artful, polished combination of wine tasting, pairing, and ultimately a great close on the sale.  It was a most memorable experience, and we all happily handed over our credit cards to arrange to have his Tuscan wines delivered to our homes in the U.S. and Canada. Now, we are enjoying these purchases, and the fond memories they bring to mind.

Another of our Italy stops that is worth sharing was the Agriturismo Galatea farm which was located just outside of Sorrento.  This 4th generation family farm is located on just over 2 acres, with a major agritourism component. 

Yes, this was just a two acre farm—with every space of ground planted and often, double planted.  Every tree (mostly olives and citrus) had plants growing beneath them.  The farm itself is on sloping terraces that makes mechanization virtually impossible. 

The two-acre farm grows all types of vegetables and a great variety of fruit trees, including peach, cherry, apricot, lemon, oranges and olives.  They have even successfully grafted several trees that were producing both lemons and oranges on the same tree. The farm has twenty milking cows, pigs, poultry and rabbits.  All of the food produced on the farm is used by their on-farm restaurant and cooking classes.

Our group went for a morning tour of the farm and afterward we participated in a delightful make-your-own-pizza class. Pizza, we were told, actually originated in southern Italy, and our hosts added that this was the best area to get “real” pizza. So what better way to enjoy pizza Italian style than to make it ourselves.

We were instructed to the fine points of flattening the pre-made dough, spinning the dough in the air successfully, and then we got to put on our own toppings.  The brick pizza oven was located nearby and built into the side of the wall with temperature in the neighborhood of 800 degrees.  The pizzas were cooked in the oven 4 at a time in less than two minutes.

We were all so busy taking pictures and videos of one another dressed up in our Galatea aprons and chef hats that we almost didn’t take the time to sit down and eat. This was an activity that we could label culinary + entertainment for a truly unique experience.

The tourism industry now has created a very broad term called “experiential” tourism. This covers many forms of niche travel including agritourism, culinary tourism, adventure tourism and many more. While there are many definitions online about experience-based travel, this is one that I found hit the mark for me.  “Experiential travel connects you with the people and culture of a place that enriches and changes you through physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and/or social contact.”

We know that some of the simplest things that we do on the farm can provide the best memories. For example, we offer those experiences when our guests walk in a corn maze with cut-out paths or ride on a tractor-pulled wagon to our field of orange pumpkins.  Special memories are formed when a small child gets up close and personal with a farm animal, or a child has a chance to make her own scarecrow.  And as our own Italy experience proves, special memories are formed when a tour group has the opportunity to make their own pizza from vegetables grown right there on a two-acre farm. 

We all now understand that we are in the memory business and often the simplest ideas can provide the best experiences.

Many of you have expanded your children and family experiences beyond the typical summer and fall seasons to include Easter Egg hunts or Breakfast with Santa. But now is not the time to be complacent about what we have done.  Instead, I encourage you to look at what more you can do to expand the experiential activities that people would be willing to pay for when they come to our farm.

Look at both the physical assets of your property, your market, your kitchen space and your management talent to come up with new experience-based activities that you can offer.  Hopefully, you can come with an idea that could be in your off season to drive more business to the farm or at the peak of season to increase your average sale for the day.

Recently, I read about a new business opening here in St. Louis called Sweetology.  They have a kitchen, and you can either drop in or book a group to decorate baked cookies, cupcakes or a cake.  You pay by the hour, as well as for the amount of product that you want to decorate.  I was quite fascinated by the company as I read about it in one of the local culinary magazines and then I went online.  A group experience for a party of 8 costs $275.00 and that includes either four cupcakes or six sugar cookies per person.  Most of you have bakeries - how about setting aside a space each Saturday to let people come decorate their own goodies?

Recently, I learned of another idea from one of my cousins.  She took their children to a business called Pottery Hollow for a birthday party.   Pottery Hollow is open for all ages of guests to explore their artistic abilities by painting on pottery, and they offer objects of many shapes and sizes.  Every creation is one of a kind. Once completed the pottery is then baked and ready for pick up ten days later.

It seems that these entrepreneurs are really stretching for new ideas and franchises to create special, fun experiences for their guests.  While they must pay for the brick and mortar to host the activities, we already have many facilities on our farms and we have a natural environment for a fun outing.  I challenge you to come up with new ways to capture the interest of experiential-based tourism on your farm. Based on our own agritour visits like the Agritourismo Galatea, I can tell you that the visits that include hands-on and participation are the most fun and will be the most remembered.