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Look Beyond Produce to Help Your Land Grow Income
By Jane Eckert
As published in the Fruit Grower News & Vegetable Grower News, August 2007
Most of my readers are fruit and vegetable growers with a pick-your-own operation, a farm market, and you rely heavily on the fall season. After successfully selling your products directly to the public in a farm market, you may have moved into other business ventures, such as a pick-your-own orchard or a fall pumpkin festival, in what the industry calls “agritourism.” So now, your business is growing and you are always looking for “what’s next?”
There’s a tendency to think you have to buy something—a new jumping pillow for your play area, pedal tractors, or a cow train. These may be very good investments. But today I want to remind you that one of your best assets is simply the land you own. We are going to look at how some farms and ranches have used their land to provide extra income through agritourism.
On my January agritour to Hawaii, I was really taken by the Kahua Ranch on the Big Island. Kahua Ranch, owned by the Richards family and now into their third generation, is primarily a cattle, sheep and horse farm. The ranch encompasses 8,500 acres, climbing up to 3,000 feet above sea level, with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Highway 250, below them, was rated one of the ten most scenic drives in America.
Over the last 12 years, the Richards families decided to expand their use of the land. Not only could they continue to graze animals, but they could realize additional income by creating trails for horseback riding and ATV’s. Guests pay $90 to $95 for about two hours of riding, including safety instructions. In addition, the Richards offer an Evening Event at Kahua Ranch that includes a catered meal, rope tricks by the paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) and they hear the Richard family talk about their high intensity grazing and life on the ranch.
“Whoa”, you say, “I haven’t got the time to do all that!”
Well, neither do the Richards. But the family doesn’t try to do it all themselves. As John Richards told me, he believes you should “Do what you do well, and let other people do what they do well.” The evening bookings, marketing and transportation is all handled by an Island travel company. They hire a licensed caterer to provide the quality food. The Richards family provides the space, the view and the fun.
John was very adamant that their’s is a working ranch and they intend to keep it that way.
The ranch is home for several of the Richards families, and it is remote enough that a lot of the employees live in a small village right on the farm. The village even has it’s own church.
So when I asked John what he’d tell people wanting to get into outdoor recreation, he responded, “Make sure everyone in the family and those living there understand what it means.”
“For ATV rides, it could mean more dust blowing into the houses, buses driving up the lane at all hours of the day and into the night, and guests wanting to look into the windows of your house to see what homes in Hawaii look like.”
As the business has grown, they have accepted additional expenses. They’ve built on a large covered deck for picnics and entertainment, a lookout platform, and last year our agritour group got to take the inaugural trip in their new tram to the top of the mountain. The Richards also have a renewable energy enterprise, though the giant wind machines seemed dwarfed by the vast proportions of the ranch.
Over 10,000 visitors journey to Kahua Ranch each year. The farm is an ocean apart from the mainland, so most of their guests arrive by sea. Approximately 60% of their guests come by cruise ship, with the remainder being visitors to the Big Island or represent businesses having a corporate get-away.
Does you farm have to be in Hawaii to have this kind of success? No way. Kahua Ranch is just a good example. Another success story can be found at the Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington. Bonnie Remlinger has always had a passion for horses, so this summer the farm will be the site for a hunter/jumper horse show.
“We are on an educational whirl wind trying to learn what we need to do to get the field in condition for this hunter/jumper horse show,” Bonnie said. “The show is the most prestigious in the Northwest.” This one time event, or perhaps once a year event, will provide significant crowds visiting the Remlinger Farms, and many of those guests from nearby Seattle are likely to return again and again once they’ve “discovered” the farm.
Outdoor recreation activities are fun. I know of farms hosting border collie trials, rodeos, mountain bike racing, hot air balloon competition, cross country skiing—and the list goes on.
The key here is to look at your property in a different way—beyond what you grow or raise. We’ve learned that people want to have a unique experience—and let’s face it, people in the city have a small yard, and you have the great outdoors. Start thinking in new ways and new ideas will come to you. With the land you have, you too can grow your income.
Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.