“People have lost touch with their agricultural roots.” I hear that all the time and it is true. Most adults living in the U.S. are now 2 or 3 generations removed from the farm. Many children cannot match a tortilla chip or a carrot stick or a strip of bacon with its original pre-processed source. These factors would lead to a belief that activities which bring the public into closer contact with farmers and farming is a good thing, right?
Agritainment and Agritourism are two terms popping up more and more in the world of diversified agriculture. Broadly, they refer to businesses, activities and promotions that are designed to bring the public to a farm (or at least an agricultural setting) and provide an entertaining experience. for the visitors while making money for the farmer/business operator. Quite often there is additional subtext which suggests the goal is to educate. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably and, even among those that maintain they are different activities there is still a lot of overlap between the two. One common definition suggests that agritourism are activities primarily designed for people who do not live in the area but are visiting temporarily. Agritainment focuses on activities more likely to appeal to local residents.
Common types of agritainment activities include corn mazes, hay/sleigh rides, festivals, concerts and petting zoos. Agritourism activities might include farm vacations, ‘dude ranch’ types of arrangements where individuals pay to experience farm work, tours, open houses.
The question that remains unanswered is, “do these businesses help people better understand where their food, fiber, and forestry products come from?” Or are we creating an artificial experience which brings in a little money but, at the same time, creates a false impression of what farming is? Critics say these activities make farms seem like themeparks. Advocates say it brings much needed revenue into a farm business and that it does get people into farm settings where a little exposure might actually help bridge the farming-nonfarming divide.
I don’t know which side of the debate is right or even if there is a ‘right side’ to support. I do know that without the proper planning and careful selection of activities, agritourism or agritainment businesses can use up huge amounts of resources and change the culture of the business. If you are considering diversifying into any activity designed to attract the public to your farm it is critical to think the idea through carefully and plan thoroughly. A few of the considerations:
- Permits – make sure you have all the necessary permits and regulatory requirements covered
- Parking – depending on the activity you will need a lot of it (especially if you market to tour companies who may show up with buses)
- Insurance – check with your provider to make sure you are covered
- Mission-fit – make sure this activity is a good fit with the overall mission and tone of your business otherwise you run the risk of alienating your current customers
- Labor – make sure you have, or can access, the additional labor that you would need
- Infrastructure – examine everything from toilets to electrical capacity to make sure your systems can handle the increased use
- Personal satisfaction – will this be a fun activity for you?