Agritourism Boosts Income For Oregon Farms

Oregon farmers say agritourism attraction pays off.

Published on: Apr 10, 2013

Grants Pass, Ore., producer Bob Crouse says there is more money in producing jack-o-lanterns than food.

That's why the Fort Vannoy Farms owner decided to go big into agritourism in a business that now includes on-farm rides on hot air balloons and hay wagons.

Couple that with booths for face-painting during the Halloween holiday and a lot more places for tourists to visit when they come to his farm, which has reached a business pitch so high that he now has to provide shuttles to carry visitors from the parking lot to the site.

"Cooperating with local businesses like hotels, banks and radio stations has helped us keep the cost of our advertising down," he says of area commercial enterprises that promote the farm activities, which recently was expanded to add a zip line and a pumpkin cannon that shoots at junk vehicles on the farm.

Offering farm experiences for paying tourists can pay off in terms of extra income for producers.
Offering farm experiences for paying tourists can pay off in terms of extra income for producers.

"There are photo board opportunities, old tractor and buggies  that can be used for  taking pictures of your family," he says.

Fort Vannoy Farms also participates in a local parade to advance its agritourism efforts, he says.

"Importantly, we are still a working farm as well," says Crouse. "We have to keep up no matter how much effort we put into the tourism effort."

All of this is part of a growing Oregon farming value added thrust which is promoted by the Oregon State University Extension, which held a recent Oregon Agritourism Summit in Corvallis at which speakers like Crouse were featured.

Scottie Jones, who owns Leaping Lamb Farm Stay in Alsea, Ore, had to look for alternatives when she found her lambs and hay were not paying for the farm.

"Nine years ago, we launched the farm stay program which allows visitors to spend the night at the farm," she explains, discovering a rich clientele among European visitors.

While her venture is profitable after several "startup" years, she has some advice for newcomers to the agribusiness trade:

•Talk to a lawyer, insurance agent and your local planning department before you start.
•Check out the permit and license process, and know what to expect in terms of time and effort involved.
•Learn how to run a reservations system. It is not as easy as it sounds.
•Think your pricing strategies through carefully.
•Decide what amenities you want to offer visitors.
•When it comes to marketing, you have work to do. It is not "if you build it they will come" in this business.

What she offers at the farm, says Jones, is "peace and quiet, farm chore work if the visitor wishes, fresh food, the sights, smells and sounds of a livestock farm, and friendly animals for tourists."

After having moved from "negative to  positive in our farm income with the help of the farm stay," we are working to help educate our urban neighbors about how food is produced," says Jones.

Growth of the operation has been notable, with 100% occupancy May-September, tracking a 50% growth in business from 2006-2010, she reports. "We're growing 10-20% a year in customers."

At the same time, the visitors "allow us to see the farm through the eyes of others," she adds.    

"You need to like people to do this."