10 Alternative Agritourism Ideas for Your Small Farm
Start Your Own Money-Making Agriculture Business
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As a young entrepreneur, I tried many agritourism ideas. When the neighborhood kids were selling lemonade for pennies I created a lucrative program named, “Name a Duck for a Buck.” For a dollar, you got to name a duck and receive a certificate that you could proudly hang on your office wall, school desk or bedroom. And like Tom Sawyer’s painted fence, I graciously offered cleaning the duck ponds and chicken coops to any urban child who wanted a taste of the farm life…for only a small fee.
Much like genetic diversity is important for your crops and livestock, income diversity is key to starting a small farm for profit. If one crop fails or a seasonal project doesn’t go through, you’ll have multiple backup plans. In addition to selling eggs and produce, opening up your land to the public will provide you with multiple agritourism ideas.
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1. Alternative Crops
When my friend in a Homeowner’s Association (HOA)had to remove her beautiful chicken coop and birds, she doubled down on rabbits. There is usually no law prohibiting the keeping of rabbits in cities or HOA neighborhoods. Rabbits can be kept in small runs, grow fast, and can feast on kitchen leftovers, cut grass, and formulated feed. She butchers and processes her own meat and her customers appreciate knowing how their food was treated. Since little space is needed and they reproduce (like rabbits) and provide a great low-cost opportunity to dive into backyard livestock.
Raising crickets, mealworms and earthworms for the pet industry or fishing also requires little space and little overhead. Those with more space can try alternative livestock such as bison, elk, emu and water buffalo. In addition to profiting from sales of the meat, having customers visit your operation can also generate income through farm tours and workshops.
2. Bed and Breakfast
My same friend who raises rabbits started offering Airbnb on her property. When she told me she made $7,000 on just offering rent during school holidays and the summer, I was intrigued. By the time of this publication, my one-acre homestead should be open as a bed and breakfast periodically throughout the year, complete with chicken and duck encounters.
To learn more, I contacted Janet DelCastillo, owner of Rancho DelCastillo. She is a licensed thoroughbred racehorse trainer and has lived on her central Florida farm for 35 years. Racehorses gallop the perimeter of her ten-acre property, complete with a picturesque lake.
“Two years ago my son and daughter-in-law came to visit and suggested I consider Airbnb,” DelCastillo recalls. They travel the country helping set up Airbnb areas on farms and homesteads.
“They both cleaned my back bedroom area and made a lovely studio for guests with a private bathroom. The entrance is just off the pool deck so there is no problem with guests tromping into my home,” DelCastillo says. She provides a fridge, microwave, wet bar, and cooking facilities. “This makes it very easy to have guests and yet I continue my regular training program. They are welcome to observe and tag along with me in the morning if they choose.”
DelCastillo has found that most guests come because they love the idea of being on a horse farm and having the laid-back environment. Her chickens provide a daily egg hunt for those guests who want to take part in the search.
“They are thrilled with farm fresh free range eggs,” she says. “Since I have a miniature horse here, the children may brush and pet and love on him. He has been a real asset.”
Her guests are very excited about helping her feed the horses. Searching farm experiences on bed and breakfast sites will show you that there is a business opportunity for those willing to open up their homestead. DelCastillo currently receives about 10% of her income from Airbnb. And the guests love pitching in with the chores!
“I have found this experience to be great fun. Many diversified people come through my farm from around the world. We have intriguing discussions and this has given me an opportunity to share my animals and my farm. I would encourage any farm family to open their doors to share how the businesses of farming works. The education to the general public is invaluable and gives insight to the challenges we all face”
As I camped my way around Iceland in a transit van, I always looked for farms that offered camping sites. One of the most memorable places I stayed at was an organic flower and vegetable farm. They also had a flock of Icelandic chickens, which I adored. Providing a flat field with toilets and warm showers, water, and chemical disposal points is a must. Be all-inclusive, by offering firewood, basic supplies, and food at an additional cost. My favorite idea which I have seen advertised throughout the United States is the optional animal-related excursion. One place in California offers hiking with a hornbill, a large toucan-like exotic African bird. More commonly farm campsites offer mountain hiking with goats.
4. Corn and Sunflower Mazes
Turn a field of towering crops into a seasonal maze. HarvestMoon Farm, located in Brooksville, FL added a haunted hayride, farm-themed bounce house and petting zoo to create a family-friendly event that is widely popular. Saturday nights during their peak season, the farm offers flashlight nights where guests can roam the maze in the dark. Food vendors are on site offering various food, snacks, and drinks. Offering u-pick berries by the pound or cut sunflowers at the end of the maze will boost your visitor’s spending. With the popularity of mazes, some businesses can rely solely on their maze season. Economists say that farms that offer mazes can make between $5,000 and $50,000 a year.
5. Fishing lakes
According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), sport fishing is the number one recreational activity in the United States. Anglers can pay landowners for the opportunity to fish on private lands, a great alternative to avoid crowded public lands. And this can mean profits for you. There are three categories of fee fishing operations including long-term leases, day leases, and “pay-by-the-pound” lakes.
You can be quite profitable by growing flowers on a lot no larger than a half acre. The “big” flower farms are considered 10 acres or more. Since flowers are usually planted, cultivated and harvested all by hand, keep in mind the amount of time and labor you will need to invest. Flowers can be sold to area florists, wedding planners, funeral homes, convention centers and to individuals during various holidays. Your property will look beautiful with fields of flowers, so offer photographers, wedding and birthday parties a chance to photograph on your land for a fee.
7. Petting zoo
Starting a petting zoo business can be a seasonal or year-round agritourism idea. By just being open in the spring or summer, when there are young animals to hold and feed, can keep your homestead quiet the rest of the year if that is a concern. Another option is to take the animals on the road. I had great fun taking my neighbor’s Shetland pony, Southdown babydoll sheep, and chickens to various summer camps when I was a teenager and the income was an added bonus.
By growing ornamental and edible plants for their seeds, you can sell locally, online, teach people how to save seeds, and offer advice on seeds that grow well locally. Researching and planting rare heirloom, or specialty seeds is your best bet if you are going to profit from selling seeds. I was relatively successful in selling loofah seeds locally. I sold them to farmer’s markets and a middleman who sold them online for me. My downfall was that I used that money to buy more seeds.
9. Swap meet
Keep the farm in the farmers market. Rent your land to nearby farmers and homesteaders. Weekly or monthly, offer a place for the community to sell their wares, livestock and produce. Charge per spot and ask the vendors to donate an item for a general raffle. The extra traffic to your homestead could help you sell additional goods and open yourself to a wider market. Ask the vendors to send you their updated list of goods. By compiling the list, you can easily create an up-to-date digital newsletter that can be shared on your social media pages.
And for those who want to go upscale with agritourism, consider hosting weddings. A large farm or building could make a great banquet hall. Work with area artisan chefs to create a magical farm-themed wedding every 4-H and FFA member wants. There are tons of farm, farm animal, and country-themed wedding favors and themes to offer.
Do you have other agritourism ideas that have worked for you? Feel free to share in the comments below.