Six Agritourism Ideas for Native Farmers & Ranchers

Dynamite Hill Farms

Image courtesy of Dynamite Hill Farms

At AIANTA we are focused on helping tribes showcase their heritage to visitors in a manner that helps drive economic prosperity while also protecting cultural integrity. Included in that cultural heritage are traditional growing and agricultural practices, an area that is becoming increasingly popular with travelers.

There are plenty of economic benefits for farmers and ranchers interested in supplementing their farm or ranch income with an agritourism program. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are nearly 80,000 Native American or Alaska Native farm producers in the United States, and those farmers generated some $3.5 billion in receipts.

Because traditional Native American cultivation and harvesting are not limited to farms and ranches in the modern sense, tribal agritourism can incorporate a much broader scope than most traditional farms.

Many communities around the country are harnessing travelers’ increasing interest in food and farming as a way to invest back into their own traditional cuisine and food systems. Utilizing the revenues generated from agritourism receipts can lead to a stronger food sovereignty program for the entire community.

The key to success doesn’t necessarily mean implementing giant changes to your existing operation. Starting small can be a good way for busy entrepreneurs to test the waters. This young farmer, for example, launched his career with his “Name a Duck for a Buck” program.

Tribes interested in exploring ways to supplement their agriculture revenue can find more ideas below.

You Pick ‘Em

As any farmer or home grower can attest, there’s nothing quite like eating produce fresh from the ground (or vine). Growing season can lead to increased revenue for farmers offering a You Pick ‘em (also called U-Pick) operation. Tribal operators, in particular, can also generate increased awareness for their cultural heritage by offering add on programs in tandem with their U-Pick products. A traditional meal, cultural program, or artisan market offered in conjunction with produce picking can help spread the wealth throughout the community.

Of course, managing U-Pick operations in the time of COVID-19 can be problematic. The University of Purdue, Department of Extension has produced a handy guide for U-Pick producers, as has the North American Farmer’s Direct Marketing Association. Both guides are regionally focused, but still a good starting point when it comes to managing social distancing in a U-Pick operation

Farmers not interested in taking on the hassles behind maintaining a socially distanced operation can also set up a roadside cart or stand to mitigate outside presence on their farmlands. The world-famous, family-owned Garlic World shop in Gilroy, California, which now generates about a million dollars in receipts each year, started as a “rustic fruit stand at the south end of Gilroy alongside Highway 101, the main artery between Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Festival Fun

Name your favorite festival and you’ll likely be hard-pressed not to describe at least one of the amazing culinary offerings available there. Foodie festivals abound throughout the country, with many celebrating the local harvest.

Gatherings like the Georgia Peach Festival, Idaho Spud Day, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Alabama’s Peanut Boil Festival, Alaska’s Kodiak Crab Festival or Arizona’s Yuma Lettuce Days (to name just a few) can attract hundreds of thousands of domestic and international visitors every year.

In Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation hosts the annual Big Apple Fest, which highlights the local harvest as well as showcasing Oneida Culture and Heritage. The festival began in 2009, attracting more than 1,000 visitors during its first year of operation. By 2018, attendance swelled to nearly 8,000 visitors and generated more than $50,000 in sales. Read the Big Apple Fest case study here.

Producers looking to avoid person-to-person interaction this year may be interested to know that Drive Through Festivals have become a popular activity for 2020. Even the annual Brewgaloo Festival—voted the best beer festival in the U.S.—in Raleigh, North Carolina has announced it will be shifting to a drive-through operation this year.

Friendly Competition

Angel’s Camp, California, population 3,836, is a destination you might not immediately recognize. But the small town attracts upwards of 50,000 visitors each year to its internationally renowned Jumping Frog Jubilee. The festival reportedly generates $5 million in revenue annually for the local community.

Sure, Angel’s Camp had Mark Twain singing its praises, but he published the “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” more than 150 years ago and the festival continues to be a huge annual draw (except for this year, of course).

American travelers are infused with the competitive spirit, so why not offer them something in which they can compete? Fishing derbies, animal races, guess the number of <insert your agricultural product here> in a basket are just a few ways to create interactivity with visitors to your destination.

Please Feed the Animals

Never underestimate the lure of the face-to-face interaction with farm animals. If your operation features livestock of any sort, a petting zoo operation might be a path to supplemental revenue.

In Japan’s rural Shizuoka Prefecture, located at the foot of Mount Fuji, the Makaino Farm was once a struggling dairy farm. Known for its high-quality goat milk products, but not seeing tremendous revenues, the farm shifted operations and has since become a bustling local attraction especially popular with urban Tokyo-ites who have little access to agricultural lands.

Although the farm operations continue, Makaino now also offers a theme-park style list of attractions as well as plenty of educational opportunities. Kids can learn how to muck out stalls, feed cows and care for baby goats.

The most popular activity? Kids can rent goats in 20-minute time slots and lead them around the theme park. Plenty of agricultural offerings are available in the park’s restaurants and gift shops, but visitors can also join hands-on activities such as butter, cookie, sausage and cheese making. “Craft experiences” such as candle art, also help support local artisans.

If you do plan to start an animal operation, please be sure to familiarize yourself with the Animal Welfare Act, which sets the standards for the humane care and treatment of animals that are exhibited to the public.

Showcase Traditional Practices

Trade and training programs are a popular agritourism activity, especially with international visitors. Urbanites, in particular, are excited to join in activities that many farmers consider “work”.

Dynamite Hill Farms, located along the shores of Lake Superior in Keweenaw Bay, Wisconsin, is owned by Jerry Gondreaub and Katy Bresette, both members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The farm hosts groups and individuals that are interested in learning about traditional Ojibwe food practices.

Gondreau told AIANTA that his expansion into agritourism developed organically as people learned about what he is doing and asked if they could visit.

“We love it when people visit and we can sit down and take a meal together,” he said. “We’re not looking to be anything big. As long as my kids are healthy and happy and we have a shelter over our heads, we’re successful.”

For more information on starting your trade program, the National Agricultural Library at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a handy Agritourism and Farm Tours reference guide.

Bed & Breakfast

Developing an overnight program at your farm or ranch can be as easy as setting up a listing at Airbnb, the popular vacation rental listing site. These farm stay programs have become so popular that major national publications frequently feature Best Airbnb Farm Stay stories. Don’t stop with Airbnb, however. Sites like VRBO and Homeaway also offer vacation rental listings.

Overnight programs need not be restricted to in-house operations. A rustic on-site campground offers an alternative for farm producers looking to avoid too much direct contact. Or skip the on-site operations and team up with a local, tribally owned RV resort or an area hotel, resort or casino to create a comprehensive agritourism package.

For more information on developing an agritourism program, please visit AIANTA’s Agritourism Resource page.