by Diane Daniel, author of “Farm Fresh North Carolina”
In 2008 and 2009, I visited hundreds of farms across North Carolina for my guidebook “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” which came out this year. Because it’s a travel book, I was interested only in farms that have some degree of public interaction, or “agritourism.” This could include U-picks, farms that give tours (regularly or by appointment), farms that host dinners, provide lodging, etc.
Since then, I’ve heard from more and more farmers who have added some degree of agritourism activities. Their reasons are varied, but usually include educating the public, adding to a farm’s income, and increasing the farm’s visibility. Many started only after the public clamored for interaction. For instance, Lee Rankin of Apple Hill Farm, an alpaca farm outside of Boone, told me, “If people were going to keep driving by and dropping in, let’s give them a set time to come.” Ultimately, she found she got a lot out of it as well. “People learn so much about animals and farming, and it reminds us why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Most farms start with baby steps: maybe tours first (which I urge farmers to charge a nominal fee for), then on-farm dinners, a daylong festival, a retail shop, and more. Farmers told me that operating a working farm that is also open to the public on any level can be challenging, but that the forum it gives them to educate and inspire the public is worth the effort.
If you’re a farmer and thinking of opening your doors to the public, resources include CFSA, the NC Agritourism Office directed by Martha Glass (919-707-3120; firstname.lastname@example.org), and the book “The New Agritourism: Hosting Community and Tourists On Your Farm,” by Barbara Berst Adams (New World Publishing, 2008).
Below, I briefly describe five CFSA member farms and why I think they demonstrate “best practices” in agritourism:
Apple Hill Farm, Banner Elk,
Owner Lee Rankin planned to breed alpacas (current count is 22) on the farmland she bought in 2001. Since then she’s added guard llamas and donkeys, and goats. In 2009, Lee opened the farm seasonally on Saturdays for tours, and other times by appointment. The tour includes a look at the garden, berries, apple orchard, and, of course, the alpacas.
What works well:
Website has information on tours and the alpacas; Facebook page fairly current. The winding mountain road to the farm is fun, the setting is gorgeous, and the place is very well maintained. A nice shop in a beautiful barn carries fiber goods. The tour is varied, and the alpacas are the cutest. Lee is passionate and personable.
Apple Orchard Farm, Stanley, NC
After retiring from a career in business management in 2004, Art Duckworth started to farm family land northeast of Charlotte. He grows heirloom vegetables, pasture raises Black Angus cattle, Tamworth and Berkshire pigs, and has an apple orchard, honeybees, and shiitake mushrooms.
What works well:
The farm has a website with information on tours and product availability. The place is tidy, with a cute little farmstand, and offerings are varied. Art’s windmill and solar-powered well are a bonus, as is the restored 1895 cider press he runs in the fall. Art is friendly and knowledgeable.
Fickle Creek Farm, Efland, NC
Ben Bergmann and Noah Ranells started Fickle Creek Farm from the ground up in 1999. They keep small numbers of sheep, cattle, and pigs, and much larger numbers of chickens—about 1,200 laying hens and, in a year, some 1,800 broilers. They sell produce and meat at several farmers’ markets and to restaurants. Everything about their farm is operated sustainably, including their passive solar home. They also operate a bed and breakfast.
What works well:
Website has the basic information and Facebook is very current and conversational. Weekly emails go out to subscribers. Tours are well organized, monthly (or by appointment) and cover a wide range of sustainable practices. Sunday on-farm sales were recently added. The bed and breakfast offering is phenomenal, as guests experience a full-time working farm, a rarity. Breakfast is all local and yummy, and Ben and Noah are generous and humorous hosts.
Goat Lady Dairy, Climax, NC
Steve Tate at Goat Lady Dairy is the public face of this family enterprise. When it opened in 1996, Goat Lady was one of the state’s first farmstead cheese makers, and it set the bar high. Their cheese is now sold at several farmers’ markets and grocers and on the menu of many restaurants. The farm also grows produce, tends to turkeys and chickens, and hosts gourmet dinners.
What works well:
Website is well maintained, as is Facebook page, and emails go out to subscribers. The barn the Tates built for their on-farm dinners is beautiful, the meals themselves are fantastic and fun, and the tours that follow them (to the goats and the garden) are phenomenal. While the farm isn’t open to the public regularly, it has several festive “open-barn” days throughout the year that are very popular.
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