Adding Value with Value-Added Agriculture and Agri-Tourism
I can take a joke as well as the next person, but I’ve always taken offense to the one about the farmer who, when asked what he’s going to do with the money he inherited, says he’s going to farm ’til it’s all gone. Take it from this 4th generation farm gal; I’m not in it to lose money. And you don’t have to be either!
Farming-whether it’s a hobby, supplemental income, or your sole livelihood-can (and should) be profitable. And one creative, pleasurable way to increase your profits is through value-added agriculture. Or the lady who has a couple of bee hives to provide honey for her family and friends turns the comb into candles and sells raw honey and candy made from the same to diabetics(or anyone, for that matter). Or the 4-H member raising rabbits who allows the rabbit manure to dry, sifts out any bedding or other materials, and sells it for garden fertilizer (the best there is!).
Make sense? Of course it does! And it works; I’ve done it with great success. In addition to raising Katahdins, I owned and operated a greenhouse for several years before a life-threatening illness made it necessary for me to scale back a bit. But because I was only making money from the green house 5-6 months out of the year, I was always a bit troubled seeing my profits turn into gas-propane to be exact-from having to maintain the greenhouse’s temperature during the winter months in order to have plants ready for the following year.
That all changed the day I made a batch of my Granny’s home-made ketchup. We’d forgotten just how delicious and unique it was. That was it! I’d raise more tomatoes, make ketchup, and sell it at craft shows, on line, in the greenhouse I couldn’t wait to get started!
I didn’t sell another tomato that summer. I turned them into ketchup in preparation for the holiday season’s bevy of craft shows. I gathered all the information I could by talking to organizers and a few of the venders who’d participated in the past. Then based on the cost of booth rental, how well I thought my product would be received by the event goers, and whether or not I could meet the particular guidelines, I signed up to do two shows. Not a lot, but enough to test the waters, so to speak.
I couldn’t believe how well it went-Granny Lewis Country Ketchup was a success! I sold out at the first show and had to make more using my canned tomatoes! It looked like I would need to increase my tomato production more than I had anticipated.
Could it really be that easy? Yes. And no. Yes, it was easy to come up with an idea and yes, it was easy and relatively inexpensive to make a few batches of ketchup. Yes, it was easy for me to greet people; drawing their attention to my booth. But it wasn’t as easy to wade through all the rules and regulations that often come into play when food items are involved; to know which rules applied to which situation. It wasn’t easy to decide how and where to sell. But it was an enjoyable and worthwhile venture; leading to bigger and better opportunities.
There are virtually countless options for making value-added agriculture a part of your farm operation. Take a look at just a few of the possibilities below.
- Berries/jams & jellies and dried fruit
- Herbs/gourmet seasoning packets, teas, potpourri, home spa sachets, potted herb gardens
- Flowers/dried flower arrangements and wreaths, stationary, bookmarks, recipe cards, or greeting cards decorated with pressed flowers, container flower gardens
- Tomatoes/salsa (it has to be unique), chili sauce, marinara
- Apples (or other fruit)/jelly, apple head dolls, dried fruit, applesauce, fruit butters
- Gourds/bird houses, bowls, painted and decorated for different holidays
- Christmas trees/wreaths, Yule logs, hand-crafted ornaments for the trees, fresh garland
- Vegetable garden/canning classes, pickled vegetables, dried veggie chips
- Livestock/family holiday pictures such as a nativity scene for Christmas or Easter pictures with sheep, chicks, or ducklings, fresh eggs, butter, fertilizer, or sell per lb. live weight for meat
- Nuts/candies, nut butters
- Honey/candy, bees wax candles and ornaments, flavored honeys
- Plow up an extra large garden space, section it off into smaller gardens, and rent the spaces out to “townies” who couldn’t grow their own produce otherwise for lack of space.
Another aspect of value-added agriculture is a popular concept called agri-tourism. Agri-tourism can best be described as any agricultural related activity that brings people to your farm. Agri-tourism sites are popular field trip destinations for pre-school and elementary school children, scouting and 4-H clubs, senior citizen groups, and families with young children. While it requires you to be organized and have a definite game plan (among a few other things), it can be a rewarding and profitable experience for you in a number of ways.
We were a part of our state’s agri-tourism program for a number of years. Each spring and summer, hundreds of children would come to the farm to tour the lambing barns and greenhouse. Tours lasted approximately an hour, and each child left with a small coloring book I had written (illustrations were done by an artist friend of mine) about Katahdin sheep, and a plant cell containing the flower seeds they planted while in the greenhouse. Everyone had fun, learned a great deal, and in addition to the small fee we charged, the free advertising of our farm products to the teachers and parent helpers that came (in addition to the information on the back of the coloring book) gave an impressive boost to greenhouse sales.
Don’t say your farm doesn’t have anything to offer, or that you wouldn’t even begin to know where to start. Neither is a true statement. Every farm has something to offer-it’s producing something, isn’t it? And as for getting started, there is help available. Several state agriculture departments have people whose specific job is to develop and promote agri-tourism programs. But to get you motivated, let’s look at a few possibilities for your farm.
- Increase your garden’s size and grow decorative gourds and pumpkins, offer hay rides and hot cider.
- Offer educational farm tours. You will need to develop a program that children of all ages can enjoy.
- Controlled hunting for a fee
- U-pick operations for berries, produce, grapes, apples, etc.
- Trail rides and/or riding lessons
- Do you raise Christmas trees? Turn a shed or part of a barn into an ornament making station for children (and adults, too)
- Have a barn you’re not using? Turn it into a party barn. A petting zoo, straw or hay bale tunnel, hay rides, picnic tables, horse shoe pits, and other farm/country related attractions will make your farm a popular location for birthday parties, company picnics, and other youth events.
- Do you have an extra green thumb? Have an annual flower show and sale.
- Is your landscaping the envy of all who see it? Or do you have a picturesque setting such as a spring-fed creek? Working on commission with local photographers, allow them to use your assets for family, senior, or engagement pictures.
- Children and grown-ups alike enjoy watching a milking operation (either by hand or machine). To add to their enjoyment, allow them to make butter or ice cream out of the fresh cream.
- Fee fishing in your stocked ponds
- Greenhouse tours with a potting station for children
Sound like fun? It is. Sound like work? It is. And it’s not for everyone. If you’re not a “people person” then agri-tourism might not be the value-added venture for you. But if enjoy meeting people and talking about what you do, then agri-tourism will most likely prove to be something you enjoy.
Whether it be agri-tourism, selling potted herb gardens, or a u-pick farm with jams and jellies, there are more than a few important things you need to keep in mind before you begin. The operative word in the preceding sentence is before. If there was ever a time to follow your parents’ advice about “anything worth doing is worth doing right”, this is it.
- Decide what you want to do to bring added value to your farm.
- Decide on how large a scale you want to start your venture. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- If your project involves food that is processed in any way, listen up! Home-made jams, pickles, and other such products cannot be sold anywhere other than a farmer’s market without meeting your county’s the health department guidelines for production of your product. Selling such items at a farmer’s market excludes you from these guidelines due to the fact that there is what officials call an ‘assumable risk’ when purchasing goods at a farmer’s market. If you have any aspirations of selling your product elsewhere, you will need to follow the rules. NOTE: There may be exceptions to the ‘assumable risk’ rule in some areas. Check with fellow vendors or your local health department.
- Selling processed food anywhere other than a farmer’s market means you will need to follow FDA guidelines for packaging and labeling.
- Determine where you will sell your product. Farmer’s Market? Wholesale? Other retail outlets, i.e. flea market or craft show booths? Internet sales? NOTE: an excellent outlet for internet sales is www.localharvest.org It’s easy to set up your “store”, and the support system is friendly and helpful.
- Decide how and where you will advertise. Once again, I will point you in the direction of your state agricultural agency. They will often offer assistance and free or inexpensive membership into their value-added program. These programs will help promote your product and provide you with opportunities to reach potential customers you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
- Wholesale packing supplies are relatively inexpensive and will give your product the professional look you need to present to your customers. An excellent source for most anything you will need is www.uline.com
- If your plan involves people visiting your farm for any reason, you need to meet with your insurance agent to make sure your liability coverage is adequate. Additionally, You MUST post signs expressing that (1) you are not responsible for accidents and (2) rules for visitors. For example: No climbing on gates or fences. No feeding the animals (unless that is part of your program and closely supervised). No Climbing on machinery.
- For events such as riding lessons, birthday parties, or anything with an increased risk of accident or injury, an additional signed liability waiver is both appropriate and well, just plain good business.
- When setting your prices, keep in mind that you’ll sell more if your product costs as little as possible while still being profitable for you. If your product is a specialty item, people will often expect to pay a bit more than they would for a similar product that is mass produced, but don’t price yourself out of business. A good rule of thumb for pricing your product: cost of production x 2 rounded to the nearest whole dollar. EXAMPLE: If the cost of producing a pint of jelly (jar, sugar, pectin, fruit) is $2.15, you would multiply that by 2 which equals $4.30. That figure rounded up to the nearest whole dollar is $5.
- When pricing your products, expenses such as booth rental fees and advertising should, for the most part, be considered overhead expenses which will be recouped over time.
- Pricing of service-oriented ventures (farm tours, parties, etc.) should be done with the mindset that profit comes from numbers. EXAMPLE: we charged $2 per child for farm tours. For their money, each child, in addition to the tour, received a 6 page coloring book and planted a plant to take home. Quite a bargain, right? But when you take into consideration that the average number of children per tour was 20, I took in $40 for an hour long tour. Cost of the coloring books was a mere 15 cents apiece, and the cost of seeds, soil, and plant cell came to about 8 cents each. So the average gross income per tour was $40. The average NET (or actual) income per tour was $35.40. Not bad for an hour’s work; work I thoroughly enjoyed!
That, in a nutshell, is Value-added Agriculture 101. If I’ve done my job, you are now eager to explore the possibilities of adding value to your farm (and profit). But even more importantly, you are now more equipped than ever to educate and inform the people around you of the importance of agriculture.