From Weddings to Goat Yoga, It Has Gotten More Complicated to Do Agritourism on North Carolina Farms

By Rochelle Sparko, CFSA Policy Director

In July 2017, Governor Cooper signed into law the Farm Act of 2017. With support from NCDA and Farm Bureau, Senate Bill 615 moved through the Senate and House with relative ease. One provision has captured the attention of small scale farms and beginning farmers. Section 8 of the Farm Act of 2017 restricts the ability of beginning farmers and small scale producers to engage in some types of agritourism on their farms.

In Section I, I take a look at the state of the law prior to July 2017. Section II describes the circumstances that led NCDA and Farm Bureau to engage in a concerted effort to change the law. In Section III, you will learn what’s changed as a result of the Farm Act of 2017. Finally, in Section IV, I offer farmers actions they can take if their farm enterprise is or will be adversely affected by the change in the law.

I. What WAS the law?

The state of North Carolina authorizes local government to enact zoning ordinances. See NC General Statute Section 153A-340. Zoning ordinances set some limits on how property owners may use their land. These ordinances cover property use issues ranging from how close construction can get to the property line, to what kinds of uses happen in particular areas to keep the heavy industrial activity separate from the community swimming pool. Zoning rules also require that people purchase permits in order to build on their property.

A number of years ago, North Carolina decided that farms would NOT be required to comply with zoning ordinances when constructing structures for use in farm operations. This makes it less expensive and less time consuming for a farmer to, say, build a barn for her cattle, a washing and packing shed for his vegetables, or a storage building for their tools.

The state law said that there were five ways that counties could  determine whether a piece of land was a farm, and therefore could use the exemption from zoning law. (1) a farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue; (2) a copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land; (3) a copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; (4) a forest management plan; or (5) a Farm Identification Number issued by FSA.

As more and more people are interested in having farm experiences, some farmers have used this exemption to build structures on their farms for agritourism: a shop or stand from which to sell their products, a dining space and commercial kitchen for hosting on-farm events like weddings, dinners or corporate retreats, a heated space where people can drink cocoa after time spent in a corn maze.

II. Why did public and private agricultural entities lobby for changes to the law?

A couple of conflicts between rural communities and new land owners led to an effort to make the zoning exemption for farms more restrictive. Because there is money to be made from holding events on farms, investors have purchased farmland and constructed expensive venues designed to host weddings or other events. New landowners have relied on one of the exemptions to zoning law, specifically that the land purchased came with a farm identification number issued by the FSA, to construct these venues without complying with local zoning ordinances.

Rural neighbors of these new venues complained that these new venues were being treated as farms despite engaging in very little agriculture because they were able to purchase land that already had an FSA number from a prior owner’s use. The Department of Agriculture heard these concerns, and pressed for a change to the zoning exemption law in an effort to restrict or eliminate use of the exemption by landowners who are not primarily farmers.

III. What is the law now?

The General Assembly passed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017(Farm Act of 2017) and it was signed by Governor Cooper on July 12, 2017. As soon as the governor signed the bill, the North Carolina law about which farms are exempt from local zoning ordinances changed.

The Farm Act of 2017 limits the ways that farmers can prove that they are operating bona fide farms in order to qualify for the exemption from zoning ordinances. From July 12, 2017 onward, if a farmer wants to construct a farm building on their property, they can no longer use an FSA number as evidence that they are operating a bona fide farm. Farmers are still able to use the other four methods of proof to prove that they are bona fide farms when building buildings for agricultural purposes other than agritourism. As a quick reminder, the four remaining ways to prove a farm is bona fide:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
  3. A copy of the farmer owner or operator’s Schedule F IRS form from the most recent tax year; or
  4. A forest management plan.

The General Assembly narrowed even further which farms can construct buildings for the purpose of agritourism. Only those farms that meet one of two criteria may construct such structures without complying with zoning laws. Those criteria require that the farmer show the county:

  1. A farm sales tax exemption number issued by the NC Department of Revenue;
  2. A copy of a property tax bill showing that the property was assessed using the present use value of the land;
Note that North Carolina law has restricted access to the farm sales tax exemption number to farms grossing over $10,000 since 2014. This means that beginning farmers and farmers who have years with low yield due to adverse weather, illness of the farmer, etc. will not be able to use method #1. Also worth keeping in mind is that present use valuation is only available to farms with at least five acres in horticultural production or ten acres in row crop production, making it impossible for many farms in the state to access the present use valuation program. Thus, a large number of farmers will be barred from using the exemption method #2.

The Farm Act of 2017 defines agritourism as, “any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-you-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.” Further, “(a) building or structure used for agritourism includes any building or structure used for public or private events, including, but not limited to, weddings, receptions, meetings, demonstrations of farm activities, meals, and other events that are taking place on the farm because of its farm or rural setting.”

The Farm Act of 2017 addresses what happens should a farm with a sales tax exemption or a present use property valuation build a structure for agritourism and then, within three years of the construction, no longer qualifies for either the sales tax exemption or the present use valuation. At that time, the structure will become subject to the applicable zoning and development regulation ordinances adopted by the county. CFSA expects that the farms most likely to be harmed by this provision will be farms that do not qualify for present use valuation (smaller than 5 acres in production) who experience one or two years with less than $10,000 in income. These farms will be subject to this “clawback” provision in the law, and will, at a time when money is tight, be forced to bring these farm structures into compliance with local zoning ordinances.

CFSA does not know how individual counties will enforce this new law. We have been told by sources at NCDA that structures used both for agritourism AND other agricultural purposes should be considered an agricultural rather than agritourism use, but the law does not clearly state this.

IV. What can I do if the new law is hurting my business?

If your farm business will be hurt by the changes in the law, there are several things you can do. You should call the NC Department of Agriculture and let staff there know what’s happening to your business. Phone calls to NCDA are what put this issue on the Department’s radar in the first place; they should be made aware if the changes they asked for are hurting farmers.

You should also contact both your state senator and representative and let them know that this new law is adversely impacting your business. Tell them that you’d like to see the General Assembly make some changes to the new law in 2018 to help protect farms like yours.

Go to your county Farm Bureau’s policy meeting this fall and make sure to support changes to Farm Bureau’s policy book that will enable farms like yours to get the zoning exemption. Without this change, it is likely that Farm Bureau will continue to support the new law that limit which farms get state support and which don’t.

Let CFSA know how the new law affects your farm. Email CFSA’s Policy Director, Rochelle Sparko, at rochelle@carolinafarmstewards.org or call or text her at 919-410-7645. CFSA needs stories from farmers to convince the General Assembly to make changes to the new law. If you don’t tell us what’s happening on your farm, there’s nothing CFSA will be able to do to try and change this law.

Farm Dinners, Cooking Workshops, Tastings & Tours – At a Farm Near You this Summer!

By Marianna Spence, CFSA Membership Coordinator

Many CFSA Member Farms offer their patrons farm-to-fork experiences right on their farms! These agritourism events give participants the chance to visit the farm, support their favorite farmer, share in the agricultural heritage of their community, and learn a lot more about the farmer who grows or raises their food. Some farms combine a farm tour with a lovely al fresco dinner; others invite you to cook with them using produce harvested only a few feet away.

Check out these farms and their upcoming farm-to-fork events. We can’t think of a better way to spend a summer or fall evening! If you don’t see your favorite farm or a farm near you on the list, visit their website to see if they have any upcoming events. More than 1,000 farms engage in agritourism in North and South Carolina, so chances are you can deepen your relationship with a farm near you by signing up for their next event. As you plan your visit, make sure to visit the farm’s website for any scheduling changes and instructions about how to reserve your seat.

 

The Inn at Celebrity Dairy

The Inn at Celebrity Dairy

The Inn at Celebrity Dairy | Brit and Fleming Pfann
144 Celebrity Dairy Way, Siler City, NC 27344
http://www.celebritydairy.com/
https://www.facebook.com/InnAtCelebrityDairy/

The Inn at Celebrity Dairy hosts Monthly Third Sunday Dinner. We invite you to share our passion for seasonal and local food with a three- or four-course dinner on the Farm.  Enjoy socializing and try our Goat Cheeses and seasonal appetizers followed by a delicious dinner right before a farm tour, all finished by dessert. Truly a special and unique experience! Contact us for more information, pricing and menus.

Upcoming Events:

July 16, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner
August 20, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner
September 17, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner
October 15, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner
November 19, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner, Thanksgiving Dinner
December  17, starting at 1:30pm – Third Sunday Dinner, Christmas Dinner

 

Copeland Springs Farm

Copeland Springs Farm

Copeland Springs Farm | Kristin Bulpitt
145 Ryan Rd, Pittsboro, NC 27312
http://www.copelandspringsfarm.com/
https://www.facebook.com/copelandspringsfarm/

We have teamed up with Yolanda Carney (Southern Eats & Sweet Treats) to gather folks together around seasonal food. Our Spring Gathering was a smashing success and we hope you’ll join us for our Summer or Fall Gathering. We tour the farm to see what’s growing, cook together, eat together and learn together. Menu for the Summer Gathering is being finalized, sign up for our newsletter or join us on social media for updates.

Upcoming Events:

July 23, 3 – 6 p.m. – Summer Gathering
October TBD – Fall Gathering

 

Goat Lady Dairy

Goat Lady Dairy

Goat Lady Dairy | Steve Tate, Carrie Bradds
3531 Jess Hackett Rd, Climax, NC  27233
http://www.goatladydairy.com/

We offer an on-farm dinning adventure, Dinner at the Dairy, monthly during Spring and Fall. Each meal event is a special opportunity to enjoy a farm tour and a gourmet meal served in the unique atmosphere of the post and beam, passive solar dining room of our dairy barn. Our menu features our handcrafted award winning cheeses plus local seasonal produce and pasture raised meats.

Open Farm Day is a free event open to all families each Spring and Fall. We host these Sunday afternoons with our neighbors down the road, Rising Meadow Farm. Come explore both farms, meet the staff and animals, tour the gardens, taste the cheese, feel the fleece and learn about local sustainable agriculture.

Upcoming Events:

September 24 – Open Farm Day
September 15 & 16 – Dinners at the Dairy
October 20 & 21 – Dinners at the Dairy
November 17 & 18 – Dinners at the Dairy

 

City Roots & Farm to Table Event Co.

City Roots & Farm to Table Event Co.

City Roots | Eric McClam & Farm to Table Event Co
1005 Airport Boulevard, Columbia, SC 29205
www.cityroots.org
farmtotableeventco.com

Butcher Paper Dinners promise to become your favorite way to spend Saturday afternoons this summer at the farm! This series of sustainable dinner parties center around one communal table at City Roots; surrounded by the farm’s beds of vegetables, friends, and music from our favorite local bands. Covered in a roll of butcher paper, the table becomes the centerpiece for family style feasts from some of our favorite chefs in Columbia.

And join us to celebrate the solar eclipse with a Low Country Boil and Paella Party! Enjoy chicken and sausage paella and a Lowcountry boil, as well as a vegetarian paella option. There will be live music and viewing glasses will be provided.

Upcoming Events:

July 8, 5 – 8 pm – Butcher Paper Dinner Series
August 12, 5 – 8 pm – Butcher Paper Dinner Series
August 21, 12 – 4 pm – Solar Eclipse Low Country Boil and Paella Party 

 

The Well Fed Community Garden

The Well Fed Community Garden

The Well Fed Community Garden | Anya and Arthur Gordon & The Irregardless Café
1321 Athens Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
http://www.irregardless.com/garden/

The Well Fed Community Garden is a multi-faceted, financially sustainable urban agriculture venture which grows organic produce for the Irregardless Café and Catering, as well as donating 20% of its bounty to volunteers and neighbors.  The WFCG is committed to building community by offering Raleigh residents innovative workshops and volunteer experiences that demonstrate healthy life styles and strives to become one model of urban agricultural production.

Upcoming Events:

July 15, 9 – 11 am – Intro to Veggie Fermentation
July 19, 6:30 – 8:30 pm – Farm Dinner in the Garden
July 22, 10 am to 1pm – Art in the Garden, with lunch
September 20, 6:30- 8:30 pm – Farm Dinner in the Garden
September 30, 10 am – 1 pm – Art in the Garden, with lunch
October 7, 11 am – 2 pm – Family Farm Lunch

 

Peaceful River Farm

Peaceful River Farm

Peaceful River Farm | Lee & Larry Newlin
7125 New Light Trail, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
www.peacefulriver.farm

Our farm dinners are the pinnacle of our daily efforts. There is a great emphasis on our farm-fresh vegetables and berries as we hearken back to simpler times of enjoying a “pass the bowl” meal that is emblematic of a true farm meal. Guests will also take a tour of our farm and learn more about sustainable farming. Your beautiful dinner will overlook the market gardens at a communal table where conversation and friendships blossom. And during Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes we’ll demystify how to cook successfully with fresh, sustainably grown farm vegetables. Lee teaches in an upbeat and lively manner with extremely helpful information and discussion as well as delicious dishes to sample. All classes are plant-based and health and allergy conscious.

Upcoming Events:
September 23, 10 am – 1 pm – Lee’s Healthy Cooking: Mediterranean Foods
October 1, beginning at 5:30 pm – Farm Dinner with Chef Cate Smith
October 8, beginning at 5:30 pm – Farm Dinner with Chef Joseph Gailes
October 15, beginning at 5:30 pm – Farm Dinner with Chef Caroline Morrison
October 22, beginning at 5:30 pm – Farm Dinner with Chef Bob Compton
October 28, 10 am – 1 pm – Lee’s Healthy Cooking: Introduction to Ayurveda Cooking
November 11, 10 am – 1 pm – Lee’s Healthy Cooking: Vegan Holiday Survival Guide
Greenbrier Farms

Greenbrier Farms

Greenbrier Farms | Roddy Pick, Chad & Amy Bishop
766 Hester Store Rd., Easley, SC 29640

Every Wednesday, drop in at the farm from 5-8 pm for our weekly Porch Series. Enjoy live music, festive, farm to table snacks and yard games. Bring your family, your friends, your co-workers or just yourself for a perfect way to end your day!

Upcoming Events:

Wednesdays, March – October, 5 – 8 pm – Weekly Porch Series
October 26, 6:30 – 9:30 pm – Fourth Annual Campfire Social Charity Event

Agritourism in Colombia PART 3: Field Notes from a Farmer2Farmer Mission in the Meta Region

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Part Three in a series of three installments of field notes (Check out Parts One and Two) from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Education Coordinator, Leah Joyner. Tapped for her expertise in agritourism and farm tour development, Leah was asked to participate in a volunteer agritourism assignment to Colombia through the Farmer2Farmer program. This installment includes field notes & final recommendations for tourism development presented to the farmers, Mayor’s office, and community partners in the San Juan de Arama area of Meta, Colombia.

June 7th, 2016

After a couple of much needed restful days in our hotel back in Villavicencio (and a seriously overdue hot shower) we were ready to share our observations with the community who had so graciously hosted us over the past week. We’d learned so much from these inspiring farmers, and coming back to San Juan felt a bit like heading home to see our friends. We gathered in the Mayor’s office to speak with the town council and present our suggestions for future tourism development. It was heartening to meet these engaged members of the local tourism and government offices, and made me think of the hard work that folks like this do both here in Colombia and in the Carolina’s through local food councils to ensure that strong food systems are a part of community development. Dr. Day and I had spent the past few days comparing notes and discussing directions for the future. Our report included insights for destination level next steps (based on his extensive expertise in global sustainable tourism development) and my suggestions for individual farm’s product development, biosecurity, and marketing.

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Our key recommendations are as follows:

Observations and Recommendations: Destination

Destination Leadership.

  • Developing tourism and agriculture can be mutually supportive. With destination branding/vision creating value for both tourism and agricultural product.

  • Tourism can also increase civic pride. Local residents become aware of the special nature of their destination community when visitors come to see it.

  • Tourism leadership is encouraged to advocate for tourism in the community and in key markets. Tracking of community sentiment about the impact of tourism is important to ensure long term project sustainability.

  • SJdA leaders are encouraged to access funding from agencies and other institutions. For instance, funding for risk management/biosecurity may be available from external funding sources.

Place building and Infrastructure

  • SJdA leaders should encourage “place building”. While the town has many benefits, increased signage for visitors and ongoing programs to encourage civic pride such as best gardens, best store front, periodic producer profiles, etc can help increase the appeal of the destination for locals and guests.

  • SJdA leaders should encourage infrastructure development of some basic services useful for tourists. An ATM would help visitors spend more in town.

  • Other support may include recycling facilities and solid waste management.

Tourism Leadership

  • The mayor’s office is providing the critical support as a “destination marketing office” or DMO . This initiative is an important step in developing tourism and is highly commended.

  • As the tourism project expands it is worthwhile noting that DMOs have 6 roles:

    • Leadership and Coordination

    • Planning ( with other key stakeholders) and Research

    • Product Development

    • Marketing and Promotion

    • Partnerships and team building. Coordination of the team.

    • Community relations

Many of these tasks are already being undertaken by the Mayor’s office and other institutions.

Product development

  • SJdA has potential to utilize the great farm and landscape based attractions in a variety of product “packages”. These packages could include:

    • Trails –for example a cheese trail, or an organic food trail.

    • Events – the upcoming Farmers Market can have multiple goals:

      • Attract people to SJdA

      • Position SJdA as a place to visit – with entertainment, great things to buy etc.

      • Encourage Farm visits

  • SJdA may consider two distinct product groups, each with specific markets:

    • Educational Farm tourism – targeting farmers, agricultural students etc.

    • Nature based and Food tourism.

Marketingcolumbia-part-3-2

  • Destination team focus is important for SJdA to maintain. Even with limited resources, by working together with clear vision, they will achieve great results.

  • The team should work to maximize their web presence, supporting complementary products.

  • The SJdA leadership may provide access to the internet to facilitate marketing

  • The development of tourism webpages that express the offer of SJdA on the mayor’s website and links to destination team members is encouraged.

  • The team should remain focused on consumer benefits not product attributes. Consumers come for a farm experience.

Observations and Recommendations: Farms and Attractions

Considerations for farms and nature based tourism attractions in the San Juan de Arama Area

Product Development

  • Health & family aspects: “Feed your family the wholesome foods we feed ours.”

  • Food Tourism: Offer taste based experiences. Ex. ‘Cheese Trail’.

  • Special Events: Position your site as a destination for Weddings, Corporate Events, Quinceañera celebrations, family reunions and extended vacations.

  • Consider take away products: Ex. Plant a tomato seedling in a container to take home & watch it grow, pick your own basket of fruit, or make cheese and jams (charge for these).

  • Add value to the tourism product: Ex. charge additional fees for add on activities like horseback riding or making and drinking your own fruit juice.

  • Education: Offer tutorials on cooking, preparing, and growing food. Educate visitors about how you preserve the natural environment and why it is important.

  • Consistency: Establish and advertise regular times and days your site will be open.

  • Pricing: Factor in your time and knowledge. Study what your competitors charge.

Visitor Management

  • Visitor Guidelines: Ex. Please don’t enter animal pens because they could get sick.

  • Signage: Ex. No poaching, no fishing, establish off limits areas, post guidelines.

  • Safety/Liability: Identify and minimize hazards like electric fences & aggressive animals.

Utilizing Marketing as a Planning Strategy

  • Identify target audiences: Focus on attracting small numbers of high quality tourists.

  • Leverage Partnerships: Collaborate with allies in San Juan to attract day visitors.

  • Visitor Feedback: Example questions to ask include how did they hear about you, what are their travel habits, basic demographic information, and contact info.

Biosecurity

  • Foot Dips: Use a 1:10 solution of bleach and water for farms with livestock.

  • Handwashing: Before and after interaction with animals.

  • Designated parking areas: Select areas away from animal living areas.

  • Control flows of visitors: Guided tours, no access to animal feed or water, limited access to animal living areas, host tourism activities away from high production areas.

columbia-part-3-6Natural Resource Management

  • Solid waste management: Reduce use of plastic and increase recycling. Utilize visitor signage to enforce waste and recycling protocols on site.

  • Trail Recovery: Periods of rest for trails and utilization of alternate routes. Canopy tours are a good suggestion from the National Park Service to reduce foot traffic.

  • Set benchmarks to monitor tourism impact. Write down your concerns about crowding, noise pollution, vegetation trampling, health of biodiverse species and regularly monitor conditions for change exceeding what you/the community deem acceptable.

Following the presentation we held a Q&A period with the mayor’s office, tourism partners, and then headed over for our final meeting with the farmers of the region. On the way to the meeting encountered a young woman with The Halo Trust. This organization works to remove active land mines from post conflict areas around the globe, and is in the process of de-mining several of the areas we had previously visited throughout our trip. In some ways, I’m glad that the idea of active landmines hadn’t occurred to me during the more adventurous portion of our trip… We invited Emma to join us for our final meeting with farmers to help build connections, as much of her work hinges on meeting members of the community who may have some information about where land mines may be active in the area (including a site quite close to the White Cliffs). This threat certainly presents a unique challenge for tourism development in the region; the organization has quickly become the second largest employer in the San Juan Valley and seems to be making quick work of clearing the area. If tourism development is to continue in the region, coordination on this work will certainly be crucial.

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Back at the library, the farmers and friends we’d made greeted us for our final meeting. We presented our recommendations and discussed strategic directions for the future. We thanked them for their time, and for their willingness to share their farms and homes with us. The experiences had in this region and the people who welcomed us with open arms would certainly make it worth visiting again and I hope to be able to return someday. Since our trip the group has hosted their first Campesino Festival (farmers market and festival), and I hear it was a huge success.  If you are thinking of making a trip to Colombia I would highly recommend venturing out to the San Juan de Arama valley. However, I would encourage you to consider hiring a local guide and translator. Even though the peace treaty has since been signed, it’s still not widely recommended to wander too far off the beaten path in central Colombia.

The last few days of our trip consisted of several informal visits to sites that were outside of the San Juan de Arama Valley. Instead of detailing the finer points of those visits (swimming at the feet of waterfalls, horseback riding at sunset, canopy zip lining, and hiking through the canyon of the Guejar), I’ll just leave you with some photographs of this incredible rich, diverse, and beautiful part of the world that I was fortunate enough to experience, and a quote from mi hermana, Monica:

“I love my country, so, so much. But the people, we have had enough. It is time for peace to come. This is the most important thing”.

columbia-part-3

Agritourism in Colombia PART 2: Field Notes from a Farmer2Farmer Mission in the Meta Region

colombia7

Part Two in a series of three installments of field notes (Check out Part One) from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Education Coordinator, Leah Joyner. Tapped for her expertise in agritourism and farm tour development, Leah was asked to participate in a volunteer agritourism assignment to Colombia through the Farmer2Farmer program. To connect with the work Leah does at CFSA, check out the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 17-18! The tour features 25 farms in the Triangle area, so get your car pass, choose some farms to visit, and get to know your local farmers!

June 1st, 2016

En route to San Juan de Arama we stopped at an open air cafe for breakfast. Our group included myself, Dr. Jonathon Day, Professor Constanza, Jorge the Farmer2Farmer Colombia coordinator, Monica our translator, and our talented hired driver (I’ve never seen a mini-van cover the terrain we managed during this trip). We picked up fresh fruit from the adjacent market to enjoy with our tinto as it poured down outside. Our hosts had warned that this was the rainy season, but luckily this was one of the few stormy days we experienced. We were served plates of scrambled eggs with tomato and green onion, which like most Colombian meals, were accompanied by sides of rice and fried plantains.  We arrived to San Juan De Arama just as the farmers were gathering at the community center which serves as a library with limited public computer access, a gathering space, and classroom for programs such as the local tourism education institution.

On the road beside the community center sits a collection of rusted cars, left in place from a bombing several years past. As we walked through the wreckage our translator told us about a three day period in which Professor Constanza was trapped in a hotel with no food and water while the town she was visiting came under guerilla siege. Although that story took place in a different town, bombings were widespread across the country for many years.

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The people of San Juan left these bombed cars in the town center as a reminder of the violence that once tore through their community.

The walls of the library were lined with a series of placards depicting a timeline of the history of Colombia. The first placard renders the history of La Violencia, or the period of Civil war from 1946 to 1964 that resulted in over 200,000 deaths. Next, the period of the Guerilla Paramilitary forces, starting with the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 1964 (FARC). The third placard depicted the reign of narco-terrorism during which drug cartels exerted violent control over much of the country. This period seems to have garnered the most attention from the international media, so I wasn’t surprised when several Colombians asked me “when you think of Colombia, do you think of Pablo Escobar?” Unfortunately, the recent release of the hit Netflix  show ‘Narcos’ following the rise and fall of the drug kingpin surely hasn’t helped erase that stigma. That said, in my opinions, the legacy of Escobar is one of least interesting aspects of Colombian culture. There is so much more history in arts, music, food, geography, and agriculture that sadly may be too often overshadowed by the fame of the Narcos. The final placard was a true testimony to the heart of the Colombian people: the promise of peace. This placard was printed with a hopeful sense, as if to say – ‘We believe that the present, and the immediate future will bring peace. It must. Some are optimistic (thus the plans for tourism), while others have had their hopes dashed too many times to believe that this time could bring a true period of peace. They are skeptical, and for good reason. Most of the people we met had a personal story to tell of a family member having been kidnapped, or having to flee the countryside for fear of such an event. Most adults can recount an instance when they witnessed bloodshed first hand, having survived a bombing, a shooting, or a siege. And yet, even before the peace treaty was drafted (and signed following my return), they had printed and hung this placard – looking forward to the period of peace that they believe will come. colombia9

Meeting in the library in San Juan De Arama.

After our hosts had guided me through the timeline lining the walls, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the library with the farmers, representatives from the Mayor’s office, the National Park Service, and the local tourism operators sharing with each other the vision for tourism for the region. I hosted a presentation giving an introduction to agritourism, and sharing best practices from some of the farmers I’ve been fortunate to work with at CFSA. We talked about biosecurity, and I showed images from Turtle Mist Farm where Bob & Ginger Sykes set the bar high (you can visit learn all about their practices during the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour). I showed examples from sustainable agriculture leaders like Chapel Hill Creamery, Vollmer Farm, & several other farms that open up their gates during CFSA’s farm tours. We talked about ideas for product development, marketing, safety, and liability.

We broke for lunch and a short walk through the town center to a nearby cafe. They served us a mushroom soup, and pork (of course with a side of rice and fried plantains!). During lunch we sat with a wonderful family of two sweet boys their mother & aunt and uncle. They told us about their visions for tourism and the community and shared their excitement for us to visit them later in the week. Lunch was followed with more meetings in the afternoon, and we ended the day with a cup of sweet tinto at the open-air bakery at the hotel where we were staying.

colombia10Enjoying an afternoon cup of tinto in San Juan de Arama.

Later that evening, outside of the cafe as lively music from the discoteca next door poured out into the night our translator Monica recounted stories of her fascinating life’s journey to me. She told me of her childhood growing up on her father’s farm, moving to Bogota as a teen, travelling the world and studying in London, and eventually returning to Colombia. Many of the people we met joked that she has taught half of Villavo to speak English, and everywhere we went people knew her, showering her with hugs and practicing their english with her. She was an incredible spirit, and by the end of the journey I would consider her a kindred spirit and hopefully life long friend. Mi hermana – or my sister as she would call me for the rest of the trip.

June 2, 2016 – San Juan de Arama

We were picked up at the hotel around sunrise by a group from the Mayor’s office & the Meta department of tourism. When offered the choice between an open air or enclosed land cruiser I of course went for the rugged open air ride. We were in for a bumpy, breezy, dusty day, and I loved every minute of it.

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Our driver for the day picking us up in San Juan de Arama.

First stop: an orange farm named Le Boquerón. They walked us through their citrus groves and we tasted bananas, tangerines, valencia oranges, and lemons as the farmers shared the challenges they face with pest control and climate, and the pressure they receive from their corporate clients to to use chemical pesticides. The farm is looking into, and hopes to one day become certified organic. To do this they would have to discontinue the application of chemicals, but given current pest pressure the farmers felt that they had no other choice given the quick results that chemical sprays yield. They are members of the orange growers association which is very young but growing with the support of the local government. These farmers have a great desire for tourism, and sought input for product development. If they attract visitors, what activities can they offer them?

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Touring the avocado groves at Le Boquerón.

There was discussion of a harvest festival as good starting point to attract visitors. These festivals can be successful, but all too often I’ve seen such events grow to such a large scale that the producers themselves start to miss out on the benefits unless the event is actually held at the farm. I suggested starting smaller, offering experiences like make your own fruit juices, or offering classes on making and jarring your own marmalades. It seems that many of the farmers who host visitors during CFSA’s regional farm tours have had success with crafting these on-farm learning experiences, especially when visitors are willing to pay a premium for knowledge & instruction, later heading home with a delicious product in hand. These hands-on experiences with food and farms create memories, and each time that visitor opens a jar of fruit preserves they may recall the experience they had on this farm, leading to repeat purchasing or a positive impact on consumption habits.

Next, we travelled to a fish farm. Here they raised fish similar to tilapia and dairy cattle. We toured a small portion of the fish production area and the processing area where fish are processed and packed on ice for pick up. This farmer had attended our presentation the day before, and was especially interested in the portion concerning biosecurity. Recently, several of his ponds had become infected with a virus brought onto the farm by a visitor who had previously been to an infected farm. Visitors who frequently visit, or work at other farms should be considered high risk visitors due to the chance for them to carry infected material from farm to farm. Following this event, this farmer decided to clear out the ponds that contained the infected fish & restock them designating them solely for tourism use in the future. This strategy establishes a control area where visitors can enjoy fishing on the farm, while protecting the more crucial production areas. At the conclusion of each farm visit we gathered in the shade, shared a cup of tinto, & discussed strategies specific to each site’s tourism goals. This farmer expressed an interest in offering tutorials on milking cows and making cheese, so we discussed the possibility of implementing a similar strategy for this dairy herd. Designating a small portion of the herd that he will allow to interact with visitors, will facilitate hands on learning and provide diverse income opportunities, all while protecting his financial investments in the production portion of his herd.

Next stop: Las Reservas – a reservation of twenty hectares of beautiful, pristine wildlife reserve. To reach the reserve we crossed over the river on a hand made wooden bridge, held together with metal cord. All part of the experience, right? The owner of the reserve, Ferney, and his family live on and manage the land offering a unique ecotourism experience to visitors eager to learn about stewardship. Ferney was injured in a shooting several years ago, so his son Johann takes on much of the responsibility of creating trails and guiding visitors through the reserve.

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Ferney’s family treated us to lunch & some lively music.

After a hearty lunch of (you guessed it) grilled meat, rice, and fried plantains we embarked on our hike to the highest point of the reserve. The trail was challenging, but oh so worth it. As we walked through the jungle the tops of the trees swayed as the chimpanzees jumped from limb to limb. Johann stopped along the way to identify rare plant life & relay stories of the indigenous people of the region. The reserve shares a border with the Sierra De La Macarena National park, and we were headed to a vista with a breathtaking view of Indio Acostado – the laying indian (if you’ve ever been to the NC Mountains, think Grandfather Mountain profile). As we hiked through the foot of the Andes Mountains we stopped and looked behind us at the expansive lands of the National Park below. Devastatingly large chunks of the lush landscape had been slashed and burned for illegal animal agriculture.

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Seen from the altitude of the trail, large portions of the Sierra de La Macarena National Park have been destroyed for illegal agriculture.

Our group was accompanied by two park rangers, who pointed out the destruction while lamenting their limited ability to enforce the regulations that ban agriculture inside park borders. In light of the challenges for enforcement, the rangers are partnering with reserves like Ferney’s to identify areas where visitors can enjoy the scenery of the Sierra De La Macarena, while allowing for restoration of the fragile landscapes within the park’s borders. As we reached the peak of the reserve we were treated to a magnificent view of the canyon below – the Guejar river twisting and turning beneath us, above the Indian laying asleep. Swathes of hawks flew overhead through the open canyon, and Johann related indigenous folklore of the native’s calling on the Hawks to guard the Indian so that he should never rise from his slumber.

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Johann telling the story of Indio Acostado.

We departed from the reserve at dusk, making ease of crossing over a flooded trail in our land cruizer and enjoying the night breeze while the park rangers shared their passion for the mission of conservation. The Colombian National Park Service is a relatively young organization, and these rangers had dedicated their careers to persevering beautiful open spaces and the fragile ecosystems that comprise the park system. Back at the hotel the owner of the establishment offered us a local delicacy, fresh pieces of queso stuffed with guava paste & wrapped in palm fronds. We walked next door to his family’s cafe for a quick jamón y queso sandwich (and maybe a cerveza or two, come on it was a LONG hike…). I was invited to watch the Colombia vs. US soccer game, but after our day of exploration it was all I could do to keep my eyelids open, and of course the next day would begin at sunrise again. Time for a cold shower (hot water and wifi not included) and a short night’s sleep before our excursion was to pick back up bright and early.

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June 3rd, 2016

Today’s adventure began at Peñas Blancas – The White Clifs, a village of about 200 people. In anticipation of our visit a group of enterprising friends and family had blazed a trail through the jungle leading from the village down to the River Guejar.

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Danger!

The view of the cliff’s was absolutely surreal. The jungle was mysterious and full of fungi, fruit, wildlife, and some pretty intense insect life. Our guides had painted signs to label the plant life and to warn of peligro (yes, I did learn that word before the trip).  Comes in handy when the sign could loosely be translated as “danger, you might fall off of this cliff into the river where a pop singer drowned last month.’’ This sign was a close second to my favorite, which read simply, ‘silencio’. Obediently, the group fell into silence as we clenched a rope stretched taut between trees to steady ourselves as we went down the muddy sloped trail. Our descent complete, we learned that our silence was necessary to keep the giant aggressive wasps nesting nearby from being alerted of our presence. A little too tracker jacker for my taste (shoutout to my fellow hunger games fans). Sometimes it’s best to follow directions first, ask questions later…

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The White Cliffs towering above the rocky banks of the Guejar River.

The end of the trail opened up to a stunning view of the White Cliffs jutting up and out of the banks of the Guejar. Sitting by the water we shared mangoes and talked with our hosts about their goals for tourism. They expressed a desire to attract responsible tourists who would respect the villagers and enjoy the trails and beach. It would be an incredible adventure for the right visitor. After our final meeting to discuss options for marketing and product development we set off for our next stop.

We arrived to Yoli’s farm greeted by another plank and cord bridge to cross – at this point I was getting a little more accustomed to these swinging bridges.

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The entrance to Finca de La Esperanza, Yoli’s farm.

Yoli, the farm owner had been preparing lunch for us all day and as we walked through the tall grasses of her expertly maintained fields we started to smell the cassava, hen, and plantain soup cooking over the fire. Yoli is an expert cook, and supplements the farm’s income by cooking and catering for community events. After lunch, and several cups of tinto, we headed off for our pasture walk. At Finca de la Esperanza they are implementing a pasture management system that keeps the grasses tall and the animals healthy year-round. They grow three types of grasses, and let the land rest for two months between uses. They are also practicing some silvopasture and hope to utilize agritourism as a tool to showcase their reclamation of the land and sustainable agriculture practices. They are partnering with university contacts to continue the reforestation of the portion of their land that they’ve placed into a reserve. Yoli is practiced in herbal remedies and only uses medications for animals when needed. She has also developed a medicinal remedy to ease the swelling for the occasional bout of mastitis dairy cows are prone to, and she offers workshops to neighboring farmers who want to learn more about medicinal herbs. They practice strict cleanliness standards in their dairy and have been visited by many scholars, institutions, and other farmers. They keep a registration log of all visitors who come to the farm for biosecurity reasons. Yoli also belongs to an association of women in the region who specialize in cheese-making.

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Yoli guiding our group through the lush pastures at Fina de la Esperanza.

As Yoli walked us through her fields and explained how many experts have come to learn from her systems of pasture management she mentioned that we were the first group of tourists she’d ever welcomed. On this point, I had to disagree. In my perspective, those experts and students are her target audience. Yoli’s specialized, advanced knowledge is exactly what comprises the unique visitor appeal at this farm. The farm itself is fourteen acres, with eight in cultivation and the rest in a natural preserve. Their goal is to showcase that you do not have to have large farm in order to produce a quality product and support a sustainable business model. Her husband is certified in Artificial Insemination & the farm is in the process of going through several other government certification programs for safe handling and cleanliness. This expertise sets their farm apart, establishing them as a model operation.

The sun setting over the Andes mountains painted the sky a vibrant set of colors as we prepared to set off. Yoli’s husband arrived on his motorized scooter having picked up their young daughter from school. They sent us off with a tray of fresh cake and fruit smoothies, and as we ate dinner in the back of the land cruiser on the way back into San Juan De Arama I was taken with the sheer beauty of the region and the great untapped potential for tourism in this remarkable valley.

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June 4, 2016

Another 5am wake up call this morning! We loaded up in our vehicles and made our way to a nearby dairy farm to catch their morning milking. This farm has an agreement with a large company and adheres to the food safety protocols set by the company. They raise mostly cebu cows, a breed valued for it’s dual purpose in both beef and milk production. Beef and veal (you’ll find this referred to as baby beef on most menus in the region), are popular in local cuisine.

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Early morning milking.

In the high season the farm, 50 hectares in total produces anywhere from 100 to 200 gallons of milk per day. Because of the warm and wet climate grasses grow year round, so the farmers need only feed the animals grass and mineral salts. The tourism idea for these farmers would tie well into a regional cheese trail, and the farmers have already discussed developing a thesaurus of types to familiarize visitors with the terminology often used on dairy farms. Morning milking is busy work, and these farmers only had about thirty minutes to spare for our visit, so off to the next stop!

We arrived at La Manguita just as the milk truck was arriving for the daily pick ups. As some members of the family loaded up the morning milk onto the delivery truck we met the owner and his brother. This farm is highly diversified, producing large amounts of commercial citrus, selling milk and beef, and raising animals and vegetables for their own production. The most striking part of this visit was the farmers explanation behind his choice to only use chemical fertilizers and products on food that is to be shipped off the farm. For the food the family produces for their own consumption they grow organically with only inputs from the farm itself.

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Cucumbers grow in the family garden at La Manguita.

This is an interesting tourism opportunity – the chance to show visitors from cities like Bogota the practices that are used on commercially produced food that is shipped into the city to be sold at low costs through middle men. We discussed the huge opportunity to show the differences in the food they choose to feed their families, and that can be purchased directly from the farmers vs. what goes into food when corporations set the growing practices. This farmer shared his personal opinion that often wealthier people in colombia suffer cancers because they are buying the prettiest, most uniform and expensive [chemically treated] fruits that are being sold in high end markets. He felt that eating ‘ugly produce’ as the less wealthy do includes the foods which have not been sprayed, but compensate for their lack in visual appeal through taste and health benefits. An interesting and timely comment considering the national movement towards ‘ugly food’ in the U.S. For tourism development at this farm we discussed the opportunity to offer taste tests to visitors. Let them sample both the conventional and organic foods grown on this farm, and really see the difference.

This farmer has also noticed how the spreading of chemicals reduces plant resiliency, causing crops to ‘become addicted’ to the sprays. He is finding it harder and harder to procure seeds that are not provided by giant seed companies, and as he makes this comment we learn that one of the next Farmer2Farmer missions for the region will focus on seed saving and resiliency. This farmer, along with his brother and son walked us through their home garden and explained how they use techniques like applying chili oil to plants to keep pests away. This farm was only about 10 minutes from San Juan De Arama, and not equipped to offer overnight accommodations. During our final meeting we discussed the opportunity to partner with the local hotel owner and offer an agritourism package experience in which visitors could stay at the hotel, and as a part of their package they may choose the farm breakfast as an add-on experience, where they could come to the farm and participate in morning milking, harvest vegetables from the garden, and gather eggs. After their taste tests of the organic vs. conventional products they could sit together with the farmer and his family and enjoy a local and organic breakfast produced and cooked right there on the farm.

Next, we made a quick visit to the farm of the family we’d shared lunch with on our first day. This family was so warm and welcoming, and the farm was well versed in tourism, accommodating several hundred visitors each year during the high season. They offer riverside swimming, although we couldn’t partake in this activity because our visit was during the rainy season making the river too dangerous for swimming. We did enjoy a thrilling ride on the ‘tarabita’ a wooden cart suspended on a cord spanning across the roaring river, and I was treated to my first horseback riding experience. Of all the places to learn to ride, I’d have to say along the banks of the Guejar river has got be be pretty high up there if you get to choose.

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 Horseback riding & the ‘Tarabita’ ride at la Finca Reserva.

Our final stop was a visit to the president of the cattle growers association of San Juan. At this farm they are working to build a central hub and office for the association. The group holds an annual event to celebrate ‘Earth Day. Interestingly, the Piedmont Farm Tour was also set to coincide with Earth Day by the founding members of CFSA. It seems, great minds think alike. The farmers at this stop have a peaceful view of the sleeping Indian, and both are specialists in genetic development through the Univerisidad de los llanos. At this farm they use clockwork pasture rotation to ensure healthy pasture management, and through their system they are able to glean 54-88 liters of milk per day from only 10 cows. Here, they breed first for resilience and second for productivity. Think back to the dairy farm I mentioned where they were raising primarily cebu cows for productivity. In contract, at this farm we learned how the wild nature of the cebu can be a challenge for raising the animals so they have bred a cross between a cebu with several other more traditionally calmer species. This allows their breeds to retain the larger necks that help with weather resistance and long ears to regulate temperature while preserving productivity and manageable temperaments. At the conclusion of this meeting Yoli arrived again with lunch for all and we sat in the shade of the citrus trees sipping her yucca soup and discussing goals for the final plan we were to synthesize based on all we’d learned on the trip. We went around the circle as each farmer and community member expressed their visions, underlining the desire to continue to work collaboratively, involving members across all sectors of the supply chain to develop a cohesive direction for sustainable tourism development within the region. Dr. Day and I had a lot to think over as we travelled back to Villavicencio to work on our final plan. We said our goodbyes, and packed up for the city. We would be back in three days to present the results of our recommendations.

Great Outdoors University: Bringing Kids Out to the Farm

by Mary Bures, NC Wildlife Federation

This summer, CFSA’s Lomax Farm partnered with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation to bring students in their Great Outdoors University Program to visit Lomax Farm and the Farmers-in-Training. An important part of agritourism allows children to experience farms and how farmers grow the food that they eat.

 

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

NC Wildlife Federation’s Great Outdoors University (GoU) has enjoyed an action-packed 2016 season of experiences, including those with our destination partner Lomax Farms.  GoU of greater Charlotte, NC launched its first programs in June of 2013 and has served over 30,000 participants to date. GoU is a conservation-based experiential education program designed to bring life-changing experiences to kids 6-18 years old who have limited opportunity to explore the natural world. The GoU curriculum empowers youth by connecting them with nature using fun hands-on/minds-on inquiry-based teaching methods in outdoor environments like farms, forests, streams and nature preserves.

 

For many of these children, GoU provides their first opportunity to get outside and explore the natural world and its many wonders and benefits.

Great Outdoors University takes a collaborative approach utilizing the strength of North Carolina Wildlife Federation affiliate resources and forming alliances with community partners, like the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. For many of these children, GoU provides their first opportunity to get outside and explore the natural world and its many wonders and benefits.

 

Mary Bures (Manager of GoU) reached out to Aaron Newton (CFSA’s Lomax Farm Coordinator) and worked to create the “Farm to Table Program,” giving kids an introduction to a working organic and sustainable farm. What some of us take for granted became a first time experience for them.

 

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

The kids began their adventure at Lomax by participating in an activity to discovering an assigned fruit or vegetable. Then, with Matt Warden, Lomax Farmer-in-Training, half of the group explored the community garden. There they learned about the importance of pollinators as they explored a variety of pollinator plants including bee balm, asters and mint, which the kids excitedly discovered with their senses of smell and taste. The students then learned about the drip irrigation system and one group even assisted in laying a bit of pipe. Finally, they had the opportunity to pick (perhaps for the first time) their own vegetables. We enjoyed a variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, okra, and eggplant throughout the season.

 

The group would then gather in the common vegetable prep area. The kids learned about this part of the operation and how the participating farmers prepared their crops for market. They assisted in washing the veggies and prepping them to eat.  Of course this was one of their favorite parts of the program!  What a thrill to see kids really enjoying their freshly picked veggies! 

 

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

Photo submitted by Mary Bures, GoU

In addition to harvesting and preparing crops, the children also enjoyed a hands-on planting session with Aaron. He taught them the importance of soil preparation and they actually had the opportunity to mix it with their own hands. Just as the farmers would start their crops, the kids were able to plant their own seeds and take them home to nurture and grow.

 

In the end the kids had a wonderful time digging in the dirt, eating some freshly picked organic veggies and learning about sustainable farming.  Who knows…perhaps some will come back in a decade and join as a Farmer-in-Training at Lomax.

 

Thanks to Aaron and his team, this was one of GoU’s most successful programs this season and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Lomax.

For more information on NCWF’s Great Outdoors University, visit http://www.ncwf.org/GoU.

Big Smiles and Blueberries Running Down Their Cheeks at The Happy Berry

by Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator

Walker and Ann Miller of Happy Berry Farm

Walker and Ann Miller of The Happy Berry 

 

“The story of this farm begins 10,000 years ago,” says Walker Miller of The Happy Berry when I ask him about his farm. “These lands were grasslands with buffalo, woolly mammoth, and saber tooth tigers. The woodland people were hunter-gatherers and used fire to manage the Savannah – control weeds, recycle nutrients, encourage grazing species and maintain clear vistas and edge habitat to facilitate hunting.”

 

“Grasses grew to ten, twelve, even fifteen feet high. The managed fires produced charcoal which was trampled and became biochar,” Walker explains to me. “There were four to five feet of rich soils on this land.”

 

Walker patiently and passionately walks me through the rest of the history of the land, through the years of the Cherokee and then the arrival of the white man, agriculture, cattle and hogs, corn, and cotton. In 1914, when the Conservation Service was born, the soil was gone.

 

Walker, a now retired professor of plant pathology and physiology at Clemson University, and self-proclaimed “subsistence” farmer with his wife, Ann, and daughters, Betty Ann and Zoe, began restoring the soils on this land in 1979.

 

Happy BerryWhen Walker began growing blueberries here, virtually all blueberries were being grown south of Wilmington. He believes that perennial crops are the key to the future of farming. “When you plant perennials,” he says, “the plants themselves build carbon networks and consistently build humus in the soil that has a half-life of thousands of years, augmenting a healthier, for earth, carbon cycle.”

 

Berries are a frost susceptible crop so Walker spent four years looking for suitable land and worked with an ag meteorologist at Clemson to identify this site which is 9 degrees warmer on frosty nights than just a half mile up the road.

 

Walker and his family have been working ever since to steward this land. “Ultimately,” Walker states, “our belief is that local farms like ours provide an essential environmental service for the future of our planet.”

 

The Farm

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A view of The Happy Berry 

The Happy Berry is a pick-your-own farm on twenty-two acres in the Upstate region of South Carolina. The main crops are blueberries, blackberries, figs, muscadine and seedless table grapes.

 

In recent years additional frost tolerant crops have been added such as goji berry, persimmons, dwarf black mulberry, and seedless muscadines. The farm maximizes the harvest season by planting several different varieties of each crop so berries can be picked from June 1 until early October.

 

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Even the smallest berry-pickers have smiles on their faces at The Happy Berry 

Pre-picked berries and fruit can also be purchased on-farm and at four local farmers’ markets: Greenville TD, Clemson, Six Mile, and Anderson. Walker is quick to point out that “no farm is successful until it is marketed – the real deal is my wife and daughters who market the farm!”

 

Ever looking to find ways to care for the land and diversify farm income, nine varieties of pussy willows are grown in the winter in riparian areas to help with water management. Pollination is always a concern. Honey bees are invasive and they compete with the native bees which are necessary for blueberry pollination. Flowers and forage have been planted all over the farm to attract and sustain native bees.

 

The First Blueberry

Zoe Miller on the farm

Zoe Miller on the farm

“They call me the first blueberry,” Walker’s daughter Zoe shares. “I was born in May of the first year of production on the farm. I’m the same age as the farm – thirty-five.”

 

Zoe grew up on the farm and, after a few years away from the farm as a young adult, she has been a full partner and hopes to continue the legacy her parents have established.  Her sister, Betty Ann, was fifteen when the farm began and worked her way through college on the farm. She continues to be a part of the family farm as she handles the website and online marketing for the farm from her home in Waynesville and brings granddaughter, Sarah, to the farm on weekends.

 

“There’s a joy families experience,” Zoe says, “when they spend time outdoors around growing things and picking delicious and healthy food for their family table.” She loves seeing children with “big smiles and blueberries running down their cheeks.”

Zoe enjoys that the farm is an integral part of the community and seeing how many people love being on the farm. “There’s a joy families experience,” Zoe says, “when they spend time outdoors around growing things and picking delicious and healthy food for their family table.” She loves seeing children with “big smiles and blueberries running down their cheeks.”

 

Both Zoe and Walker insist that transparency with their customers, educating them and sharing with them the whole truth so they know how you care for the land, is essential to the trust and support they have built in the community. Walker rattles off a series of stories of methods, techniques, research and trials he has undertaken on the farm and he honestly shares both the failures and the successes.

 

A shade cloth research project testing yield on primocane bearing blackberries, funded by SARE, was one of the “failures” and is detailed on the farm website. As a result of that research, though, a new experiment is underway, planting pine trees (Loblolly, Italian Stone, and Long Leaf) in E-W rows among the orchards to provide weather mediation (passive frost protection, slowing down violent thunderstorms) as well as sequestering carbon above and below ground.

 

After attending a CFSA presentation on bio-char, Walker began studying it and envisions a batch kiln to make bio-char from the prunings, which will then be sprayed under the bushes allowing the nanoparticles to move down through the soil. “Is it practical to do?” asks Walker. “Don’t know yet.”

 

“Dad always told us,” Zoe shares, “that the worst thing you can do as a farmer is to get comfortable. You need to be always progressing, always learning and trying new things.”

 

The Future of Farming

“It is plain that global warming is happening and is being driven by the use of fossil fuels and how we do agriculture,” Walker states in his report, Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Action Plan. “In 2016,” he notes, “over seventy percent of us know we must transition away from fossil fuels but only a few of us grasp that the 12,000 year old (paradigm) way we do agriculture must change!”

 

Walker Miller takes eager farmers on a tour of his farm as part of the Sustainable Agriculture Conference held in Greenville in 2012

Walker Miller takes eager farmers on a tour of his farm as part of the Sustainable Agriculture Conference held in Greenville in 2012

Walker recommends several resources which are shaping his thinking and planning for the future. Wes Jackson, at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is developing perennial crops which Walker agrees are key to the future. Laura Lengnick’s book, Resilient Agriculture, and Mark Hertsgard’s, Hot Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, prompted Walker to write out his own farm action plan.

 

Walker doesn’t mince words as he explains that “all economic systems require through-put – natural resources including our soils – and currently we are exploiting other countries and cultures as well as our own for these natural resources.” He believes that we must learn to live within the resources of our bioregion and pay attention to the direct bio-feedback regional farming and natural resources provide.

 

Walker sites Molly Scott Cato’s book, The Bioregional Economy: Land, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, to support his understanding that “current economic systems are not sustainable and when they collapse it’s going to be farms like this one which the world will need.”

 

Walker is proud to have been named CFSA Farmer of the Year in 2014. He constantly continues to experiment, learn, lead and share what he has learned with the farming and food network.

 

“It seems unlikely, in the grand scheme of things,” he says, “that our efforts here on this farm will have a major impact, but perhaps we can be an example for others and contribute to a resilient and sustainable future for farming, and for the earth.”

 

To learn more about The Happy Berry and links for reports, go to www.thehappyberry.com.

Agritourism in Colombia: Field Notes from a Farmer2Farmer Mission in the Meta Region

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Part One in a series of three installments of field notes from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Education Coordinator, Leah Joyner. Tapped for her expertise in agritourism and farm tour development, Leah was asked to participate in a volunteer agritourism assignment to Colombia through the Farmer2Farmer program. To connect with the work Leah does at CFSA, check out the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 17-18! The tour features 25 farms in the Triangle area, so get your car pass, choose some farms to visit, and get to know your local farmers!

The sun beating down at the foot of the Sierra De La Macarena Mountains, I asked the farmer – “Why do you want agritourism?” Without missing a beat he replied, “Because I want the world to know who Colombian farmers really are.”

There seems to be a global misperception of the Colombian people. In the weeks leading up to my trip I was constantly asked, “You mean, you’re going to Colombia THE COUNTRY? Aren’t you worried about the drug trade? What about being kidnapped!?” To be sure, the country has had a violent history: any colombian my age (late twenties) will tell you that they have never known peace in their lifetime. Actually, there is not a period that a Colombian under the age of 60 could recall that violence did not tear through the country. As a long period of civil war, guerilla conflict, and narcos drug cartel violence appears to draw to a close, peace seems to be on its way to Colombia.

As they look forward to the first period of peace in over 50 years, tourism is emerging as a powerful tool to change perceptions and generate positive change. This campesino was not the only Colombian who would share a passionate vision to change the global perception that Colombians, especially in rural areas, mostly belong to rebel groups and subsist on growing coca. During a two-week volunteer assignment through the Farmer2Farmer program, a collaboration between Purdue University, VEGA, and USAID in the region of Meta, I met an inspiring group of farmers laying the groundwork to implement tourism as a part of their mission to show the world who they are: passionate, genuine and welcoming people, growing food for their families and working hard to preserve the environment through sustainability.

The following blog includes excerpts of field notes from the trip broken out into in a three-part series: introduction and backstory of the region, notes from field visits to farmers and ecotourism sites, and a conclusion with recommendations for continued sustainable tourism development.

May 31st – 2016

Have been in Colombia for two days. The flight into Bogotá was my first solo international trek. For some seriously misguided reason, I expected that at least a few of the customs agents would speak English. Navigating my way through the airport was interesting to say the least… I should really have studied a little more Spanish before this trip. There was nothing like a noisy, street-facing room in the nation’s hectic capital to remind me how much I love my quiet riverside apartment in Alamance County. Luckily, we were headed out of the city at 9am the day after arrival. I met my colleague, Dr. Jonathon Day, in the lobby of the Hotel Estelar and within minutes we were in the car with a driver from the Purdue University Farmer2Farmer program. Since our driver didn’t speak English it was a good time to catch up, talk about our objectives for the trip and exchange what little bit of info we had on the assignment and general area to which we were travelling. The steep road to our destination took us about 6000 feet closer to sea level. The scenery reminded me vaguely of Western NC – driving over the viaduct bridges, passing those familiar (yet somehow still very unnerving) ‘falling rock’ signs, cattle grazing on the slopes by the road, and fog lifting off the mountains to reveal breathtaking scenery. Aside from the drastically different climate, extreme disregard for traffic patterns, and unique flora and fauna, the roadside view of armed soldiers clenching AK’s was certainly one of the more marked differences. We were headed to the Meta region of Colombia, one of the more heavily affected post-conflict regions at the heart of the country which remains occupied by paramilitary groups.

We arrived to Villavicencio, a large city home to the Universidad de los Llanos (University of the Plains). Bustling and big on nightlife (so we were told…), dubbed Villavo for short. After checking into our hotel we headed to the university to check in with the Farmer2Farmer team there. It was drizzling outside as we settled into a small classroom, gathered around a map of the region to discuss what our travel plans would be over the next two weeks. Here, I was served my first cup of tinto, and what a sweet treat it was. Colombians take their coffee weak (well, compared to the sludge I brew at home), in small servings and heavily sweetened with a delicious substance called ‘panella’. Our translator Monica tells us the word she uses to describe this dark brown, rich flavoring is cane sugar brick. Seems pretty on point to me. As I sipped the tinto and listened to the backstory of the region I was captivated by the passion and drive of the F2F team at the university. It’s clear that they are accomplishing a great deal, and having a positive and lasting impact on their community.

Professor Constanza identifying mushrooms in the rainforest

Professor Constanza identifying mushrooms in the rainforest

Professor Constanza, an agronomic engineer, shared with us her expertise on the biodiversity of the region, and the critical need for tourism to develop sustainably in order to preserve the unique aspects of the environment. Her office walls were plastered with pictures of the diverse creatures and plants that comprise the ecosystem. She explained the fragility of the environment, which we would experience first hand over the rest of our journey. Jorge, the F2F program coordinator, told us about the many projects that are planned for the region. His job demands knowledge on a wide expanse of topics, as they have brought in international consultants to share tutorials ranging from healthy food preparation, to aged cheese making, permaculture, seed saving, soil preservation, foraged foods, and much more.

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Jorge, the F2F program coordinator

As they explained the vision for rural development I couldn’t help but draw connections to North Carolina. They detailed a lack of access to healthy foods in rural areas, the desire for diverse income streams through tourism development, the willingness of the farmers to work together and their desire to support each other for the good of not only their own farms but for the benefit of the community as a whole. Often, no matter how far away you travel from home you can’t help but see similarities. These farmers are in the beginning stages of forming an association of producers, which called to mind the stories I’ve heard from CFSA’s members when our organization began thirty seven years ago out of similar desires to share knowledge and grow healthy, organic foods. Having recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Piedmont Farm Tour I couldn’t help but imagine the conversations that the founding members of our farm tours must have had, and wonder what similarities would resonate with the Colombian farmers’ own desire to use tourism to create personal connections with consumers.

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Compromiso de Todos, a symbol we saw painted frequently in public areas as reminder that the compromise for peace ‘is for all of us’

During our debriefing we learned that there are already several regional tourism strategies in place. The region has carved out several distinct tourism experiences including the ‘cowboys and sunsets’ trail, ‘the salt route’, ‘the magic of the landscape’, and finally ‘the gateway to the Sierra de la Macarena’. This fourth traill, the newest to be developed, was the reason for our mission. As access to the area begins to open in light of the pending peace treaty this trail is beginning to take shape. They explained that the local culture is rich and diverse. During the rise of coca plantations people from all over Colombia resettled to the region resulting in a blending of cultures, food, and art from all areas of the country. They explained that the building of a new road to the area was a part of a larger strategy to reclaim the area from the coca culture. The goal for tourism is to rebrand the idea of the region as too dangerous. It seems that in the plans to develop this gateway to the Sierra route, many of the villages and farmers were left out of the fold. It is their intention to brand themselves as the key to the beautiful mountain region of the Macarena. The communities that we would visit are the doorway to the beauties within the park. However, much of the park has been occupied by guerillas and cartels for the past 50 years. Much of the lands within the park were clear cut in order to grow coca, and even now that the peace agreements are underway between President Santos and the FARC, the park remains a point of contention. As a condition of the peace agreement, the guerillas have maintained that they should reserve access to the land. Upon relaying this message to us, our translator was nearly brought to tears to hear this news. Shortly following my return, the treaty was signed in Havana under these conditions. Although she was saddened that some of these pristine ecosystems would not be recovered, she recalls the long history of violence that has torn through the country and believes that no matter what, the pursuit of peace must be the driving factor.

As we would hear from the community members again and again, they want to use tourism as a tool to change perceptions around the coca culture of the region.

Even within Colombia, there is a perception that Meta is a hub of coca production. Yet in reality, the farmers are producing a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products for export into cities like Bogota. As we’ve seen in the United States, a demand for healthy organic food is growing. The farmers see this burgeoning demand as an opportunity to welcome their urban consumers to travel to the region, visit the farms, and get in touch with the realities of growing food. Considering that facilitating personal connections between producers and consumers is the cornerstone to much of the work we do at CFSA, and the driving factor behind our regional farm tours, I was excited to get to work. Here’s what we learned in our debrief:

  • What’s being produced: citrus, dairy, and beef are the main crops.

  • There is a range of experience in tourism among the farms we would visit; some are already offering tourism opportunities while others are in the beginning stages of developing what type of tourism experience they would like to offer.

  • In other areas of the country tourism has developed in a way that has exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment. It will be imperative to develop management strategies that honor the triple bottom line of sustainability – people, planet, and profit.

By the conclusion of the meeting we had a better idea of how the mission would be organized. Early the next morning we would travel to San Juan de Arama, one of the oldest townships in the region. We would meet with the farmers and tourism operators of the area and hear from them what their vision for tourism development. Dr. Day and I were to give introductory presentations on concepts of sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and agritourism and receive presentations from representatives with the National Office of Social Prosperity, the mayor of San Juan De Arama, and the National Park Office. After the initial meetings, we would visit several potential agritourism and ecotourism sites across the region selected by the community members. Let the adventure begin!

Part Two – Read about Leah’s field notes from visits to agritourism and ecotourism sites from June 1st – June 6th, 2016.

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Plan Your Next Getaway to a Farm Stay

By Marianna Spence, CFSA Membership Coordinator

Farm stays are a popular component of agritourism, which encompasses any agriculturally-focused activity that brings visitors out to the farm – from u-pick fruit operations to on-farm wedding venues. Within its category, “farm stay” can mean quite a bit, too. You might find cabins, rustic accommodations, RV accommodations, camping, full service bed and breakfasts, retreat centers, or guest houses. All can offer exceptional opportunities to connect with the land, the agrarian lifestyle, and a little R&R.

Farm owners list their farm stays on vacation rental websites like Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner), Farm Stays US, and even on Craigslist. But to help narrow your search for the perfect fall vacation spot, here are a few statewide search engines and a sampling of CFSA Member farm stays:

North and South Carolina Agritourism Directories (hint: you can find farm stays and MUCH MORE using these great search engines!)

South Carolina Department of Agriculture recently launched its Agritourism Passport Program database. You can sort by county or search by keyword: http://agriculture.sc.gov/divisions/agency-services/agritourism/agritourism-farms/

North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services hosts a database of farm stays sortable by county: http://www.ncagr.gov/NCproducts/Directory.asp?CatNum=1011&SubCatNum=11

People-First Tourism, a project of NC State University, is a marketplace for buying and selling genuine tourism experiences, including some farms in North Carolina: https://www.peoplefirsttourism.com/

Jackson Farm (screenshot of 360 degree tour)

Jackson Farm (screenshot of 360 degree tour)

Jackson Farm

Tom and Jan Jackson
13902 Dunn Road
Godwin, NC
http://www.jacksonfarm.com/
910-567-2978

Our two-bedroom guest house on a 10-acre, gated wildlife preserve faces a private fishing pond (boat furnished) and adjoins our 100-acre sustainable farm which offers two miles of nature trails. It has a fireplace (wood furnished), central heat and air, bathroom with claw-foot soaking tub (herbs and salts furnished), coffee, tea, herb tea, condiments, popcorn included, grill/smoker (charcoal furnished), full power microwave, refrigerator with ice, and is so private that the shower is on the screened porch. We guarantee NO tv, radio, phone, newspaper, or internet connection, but do provide a library. This is a perfect hideaway for couples or for a family with children seeking quiet and privacy. Our website tells all, and includes a 360 degree tour of the guest house.

Back to Earth Farm

Back to Earth Farm

Back to Earth Farm

Tom and Janice Henslee
3175 Trotter Rd.
Asheboro, NC
http://www.backtoearthfarm.com/
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6883053?s=wNaVjpne

If you are looking to get away in nature, relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect with wholeness, come stay at The Cabin at Back To Earth Farm. Learn about sustainable agriculture and living, or just lay in the hammock on the handcrafted cabin porch by the river listening to the sound of water falling over rocks, and soak up the peace and tranquility. Once you get here and take a deep breath, you will never want to leave!

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Inn at Celebrity Dairy

The Inn at Celebrity Dairy

Brit and Fleming Pfann
144 Celebrity Dairy Way
Siler City, NC
http://www.celebritydairy.com/

A B&B Inn and gathering place for weddings and family gatherings on North Carolina’s pioneer goat dairy. Guests are welcome to visit the goat barn – especially at milking time, and play with the baby goats during birthing season.  We feature local seasonal products (and goat cheese!) at our breakfast table, and when catering events.

Fickle Creek Farm

Fickle Creek Farm

Fickle Creek Farm

Noah Ranells
211 Fickle Creek Crossing
Efland, NC
http://www.ficklecreekfarm.com/

Since the early 2003, Fickle Creek Farm has been offering accommodations to folks seeking to understand and experience farm life on a more personal level. Initially a full bed and breakfast, Fickle Creek Farm now offers a farmstay through Airbnb and welcomes tour groups each month. Visitors and guests can walk through the farm alleys and arrange to go on morning or afternoon chores collecting eggs from pastured hens and checking pigs, sheep, and cattle.

Coon Rock Farm

Coon Rock Farm

Coon Rock Farm

Richard Holcomb and Jamie DeMent
1021 Dimmocks Mill Road
Hillsborough, NC
http://coonrockfarm.com/
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/12603074?preview

Beautiful fully equipped log cabin in the woods on an organic family farm on the banks of the Eno River. Minutes away from Historic Downtown Hillsborough with its shops, galleries and restaurants and adjacent to Occaneechi Mountain State Park. Lovely log cabin with charming details and tons of space! Fully equipped kitchen with organic supplies. For an extra fee, we can stock the kitchen with breakfast and dinner supplies straight from the farm.

Old McCaskill's Farm

Old McCaskill’s Farm

Old McCaskill’s Farm

Kathy and Lee McCaskill
377 Cantey Lane
Rembert, SC
http://www.oldmccaskillfarm.com/B-B.html

In 2008 we built the current house with inspiration from the old plantation houses: four over four with a long central hall. Each of our guest rooms has a unique hardwood floor, walk in closet, complimentary wifi access, and cable television.  All rooms have private bathrooms. A comfortable communal lounge area is shared by all rooms and features a walk-out balcony. If it’s historical sites you’re looking for, we are centrally located, 6 miles, between historic Camden and Boykin. Camden is the oldest inland city and has many local sites for those interested in history or just interested in the South. After a well-rested night in one of our four beautifully decorated rooms, your simple, fresh breakfast can be taken in the antique-laden, country kitchen or on the pergola-covered porch that overlooks the pond and the barn.

Windy Hill Farm

Windy Hill Farm

Windy Hill Farm

Chiara Gledhill
1319 Carr Store Rd.
Cedar Grove, NC
www.cedargrovewindyhillfarm.com
(919) 619-2494 or (919) 357-7908

Windy Hill Farm is a family farm in Cedar Grove, NC, welcoming farm stays, weddings, and farm-to-table events. We are committed to preserving farmland for future generations of farmers and inspiring others to live simply and sustainably. Our 1820s farmhouse is surrounded by lush, rolling fields and acres of forest. Spend a night or a weekend and enjoy a farm-fresh breakfast made with local ingredients. Come visit us and feel at home at Windy Hill.

Turtle Mist Farm

Turtle Mist Farm

Turtle Mist Farm

Bob and Ginger Sykes
221 Suitt Road
Franklinton, NC 27525
www.turtlemistfarm.com/farm-stay

A stay at Turtle Mist Farm will provide a quiet and wonderfully relaxing get-away in our 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath guest house overlooking the larger of our two stocked ponds. Guests are welcome to accompany and/or assist the owners with the daily farm chores or simply relax in the rocking chairs on the front porch or sit under the shade umbrella on the back deck.

You can visit Turtle Mist Farm on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 17-18. Get your car pass today!

The kitchen has all appliances and basic cooking utensils. A washer, dryer and iron is available in the laundry room. Housekeeping and meals are up to the guest. The guest house accommodates a maximum of 6 adults. Turtle Mist Farm has an unusual array of animals including, sheep, beef cattle, pigs, dairy goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, quail, partridges and pheasant. Plus rabbits, a donkey, peacocks and a horse, a Belgian.

Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm

Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm

Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm

Lisa Redman and Elizabeth West
Edwards Rd
West Jefferson, NC
http://www.woodlandharvest.org/

Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm hosts visitors, students and work-traders seasonally through wwoofusa.orgbreakaway.org, colleges, and community groups. We offer tours, internships, workshops, gatherings, camping & cabins. We implement sustainable agricultural practices, restorative forestry practices for materials and forest health all based around permaculture systems. We heat, cook & clean with wood & micro-hydro & two solar panels produce our electric. Our farm borders 5, 500 acres of protected forest located about 25 minutes from Boone, NC.

The Importance of Marketing, Branding and Agritourism

 CFSA’s 2014 Sustainable Ag Conference

by #SAC14 blogger, Maya Jackson of UDI Urban Farm

1620926_10152697501749014_9158804158834724587_nLike many of the folks here at the Sustainable Ag Conference, I am in this business because I love the land and good food. But, to make it in sustainable farming, marketing our businesses and the products we produce is crucial. At City Roots Farm, based in Columbia, South Carolina, they understand the power of marketing and how it affects their farm’s bottom line. Marketing should not be feared by farmers and should not be overlooked in your farm’s budget either. Marketing is a tool to create several sources of income for your business. Here’s what I learned from City Roots’ co-owner and farm manager, Eric McClam, in his Conference workshop on Marketing, Branding and Agritourism:

 

1609957_10152361583774014_4769634644558669453_nBranding

Branding is not about what your logo looks like.  It’s conveying your message and creating value for everyone to see in your farm’s business. Your farm’s message should clearly convey how your mission, vision, and philosophies benefit the community you support. Consistent branding creates a loyal following and customer base.

 

Marketing Collateral

When meeting with retailers and wholesalers for the first time, you should make sure that you bring some essential items. Never underestimate the value of the collateral: business cards, brochures and flyers about your farm, one-sheets and sales sheets about your product with information along with the UPC code, and, most important, samples of your product to taste.

 

20141111_085718 (1)Packaging

How your product is packaged will determine if a retailer or wholesaler believes that your product is a good fit for their market. At City Roots, Eric explained that they have 3 sizes of their microgreens for chefs and farmers markets, but they use clamshells for big retailers, such as Whole Foods Market. They do this for presentation and to ensure a longer shelf life of their produce in the store.

 

Finding Your Niche

Urban farming is still a bit foreign to most people in the city. City Roots Farm has found several ways to use this novelty to attract their ideal customer. They meet their community on common ground at places like the local Farmers Market, or provide them with options to obtain locally grown food through the the Community Supported Agriculture program they have formed. For added value, City Roots packages all of their CSA items in a reuseable bag with their logo. This is free advertising for them, said McClam. It doesn’t matter if their customer is at the Farmers Market or at the local chain grocery store, people in the community are able to recognize the farm’s brand when they see it.

 

Communicating

Social media and newsletters are useful inexpensive tools to use for your business. City Root sends out 2 distinct letters, one for members of the CSA and another for Chefs and Retailers, to keep them up-to-date on the farm’s latest activities and products.

 

Advertising

For a farm, unless your business heavily relies on agrotourism, you don’t need to do a lot of traditional advertising, according to Eric. The key to get people to come to your farm or farm stand is good signage. If you make it difficult for people to read what your product is about or your signage isn’t visible in the right place, then there’s a chance that you are going to lose a customer.

 

Agritourism

At City Roots they provide guide tours for students – from elementary school to college; they have You-Pick and hosted events. All of these activities complement the farm’s mission – and add to their brand value.

 

“All of these tactics were carefully adjusted through trial and error to make them work best for their farm,” stated McClam, “but, once you get a consistent winner, you will start to see the return on your investment.” Agritourism has played a significant role in their business, so much so that they have hired a professional event planner to manage this area of their business.

 

To learn more about City Roots Farm, visit their website at http://cityroots.org/