Despite increasing demand for food production, many family farms today define ‘success’ as survival. Rather than trying to maximize profits or become large corporations, farmers often strive to simply continue their lifestyle of working with their hands in nature and preserve natural working lands for future generations (Tew & Barbieri, 2012). However, this goal of survival is becoming difficult to achieve with many farmers feeling as if farming and ranching alone does not provide sufficient income. Moreover, farmers today are also struggling to get the next generation to return to the farm. Accordingly, the average age of the American farmer is increasing, which shows that less young people are entering this occupation (Mace, 2005). As a result, many families are looking for new revenue sources that allow them to sustain their farm operations and continue their way of life.
Offering farm experiences is becoming an increasingly popular activity for family farming operations, because it allows them to promote their lifestyle within their community, earn additional income, and educate others about where their food comes from (Nasers, 2009). However, many family operations are ambivalent about “disneyfying” their working farm, i.e. transforming it into an entertainment operation, and thus undermining the pride they have on their property and on their work. Throughout this paper, I will be discussing the motivations, market tendencies, and benefits sought by farmers that become involved in offering tourism experiences in their farms.
Farm Tourism Entrepreneurship
Ateljevic and Doorne (2010) studied lifestyle entrepreneurship in New Zealand and found that by rejecting a profit-driven business model entrepreneurs are able to engage with niche market consumers that share common values with themselves. Also, farm experience entrepreneurs help promote regional development of niche market products and promote the value of sustainability. Therefore, farm experiences may serve as a marketing tool promoting agriculture and sustainability that helps farmers gain local support for their lifestyle and in turn increasing the interest in farming among younger generations.
Farm experiences generate additional income needed to sustain operations and offset rising costs and increasing public support and awareness for their lifestyle. In addition, offering tourism experiences often serves as a way for farmers to increase household income and reduce farm debts, educate the public, and to keep the farm in the family. Increasing farm-family income also helps stimulate the local economy by allowing them to make more local purchases of equipment and supplies, and to hire more local people.
Finally, offering farm experiences requires little investment in infrastructure, labor, or equipment. Likewise, many family farming operations approach the offer of experiences to visitors by setting aside an area for showing and interacting with the public (a front stage), and continuing usual farm production elsewhere in their property (a back stage).
A survey of farm tourism entrepreneurs in California found that the primary motivation tourists had to visit farms in the area was the rural landscape (Jolly & Reynolds, 2005). In a day where most of the population lives in urban areas, some tourists desire to get away from the fast paced and noisy city life and they want to connect with calm and quiet nature. Today’s tourists are also more socially conscious. The market today is seeking authentic experiences that generate economic benefits for the locals and for their hosts. This assertion is supported by Goodwin and Francis (2003), who suggest that travelers are willing to pay more for a trip if it is ethical and if it supports the host community. Similarly, consumers in Iowa were motivated to participate in farm experiences because of the opportunity to buy fresh produce and support local farmers (Nasers, 2009). Based on these and other mounting findings in the tourism literature, it is apparent that there is a segment of consumers in today’s market that are seeking genuine rural experiences with real working farmers, and that they want to support those local farmers. This desire to visit authentic working farmers and participate in hands-on farming activities suggests that farm visitors are not as much interested in visiting disneyfied farms. Therefore, there is evidence suggesting that farmers could offer hands-on farm experiences on the side while continuing their usual agricultural production. Farmers should consider that they may be able to seek income streams from tourism without having to create an entirely fake front stage to entertain visitors; a space and a performance that would misrepresent their lifestyle and hinder the productive character and capacity of their family and their farm.
My literature research and my personal experience as a member of an NC family involved in farming and in receiving farm visitors both suggest that farmers today can offer farm experiences while staying true to their agricultural production goals and beliefs. Analysis of current market tendencies suggests that individuals are interested in authentic experiences, meaning that farmers should be able to reap both the economic and noneconomic benefits of offering farm experiences to the public, without having to worry about disneyfying their working farm. Overall, I feel that more research is needed on this topic, as the amount of farm tourism entrepreneurs is growing, market trends are evolving, and farm operations and farm experience offers are diversifying. Further research on this topic could give farmers the tools they need to become successful farm tourism entrepreneurs, enabling them to preserve their working land, and their lifestyle and farming family legacy AND also educating the public about the farming family way of life and the crucial role these families have in our society.
Ateljevic, I., & Doorne, S. (2000, 10). 'Staying Within the Fence': Lifestyle Entrepreneurship in Tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 8(5), 378-392. doi:10.1080/09669580008667374
Desmond, J., & Reynolds, K. (2005). “Consumer Demand for Agricultural and On-Farm Nature Tourism.” UC Small Farm Center Research Brief, 1-6.
Goodwin, H., & Francis, J. (2003, 07). Ethical and responsible tourism: Consumer trends in the UK. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 9(3), 271-284. doi:10.1177/135676670300900306
Mace, D. (2005). Motivation for agritourism entrepreneurship. Risk and Profit Conference, 1-8.
Nasers, M., (2009). Iowa Agritourism Consumer Profile: Demographics, Preferences, and Participation Levels.
Tew, C., & Barbieri, C. (2012, 02). The perceived benefits of agritourism: The provider’s perspective. Tourism Management, 33(1), 215-224. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.02.005
Written by Victoria Patterson, NC State Sophomore Student, and youngest generation member of Patterson Farm Inc. family farm.