Livestock sales are off even while the price of feed is up.
Sometimes it feels as if we are paying our customers to eat our
products when it should be the other way around. The conversation
at the breakfast table turns to alternative ways to make a living,
both on and off the farm.
How about offering a farm stay - where working farms and ranches
provide lodging to urban travelers looking for a country
experience? It's a win-win for both parties: the farm diversifies
its product offering and brings in additional revenue, the traveler
has a unique lodging opportunity.
Heck, we're on the farm anyway. Why not convert the old hen
house to a cute little cottage? Or, re-decorate the grown kids'
rooms in the main house and add new fixtures to the shared bath?
Or, put up a yurt in the woods? Or, level some land down by the
creek for camping? Sounds like an easy way to make some extra money
and cover this year's losses on the lambs. Or is it?
Before you get into the business of inviting guests to stay with
you on your farm or ranch, you might want to review the following
list of questions:
1. How comfortable are you talking with people you don't
know? Can you share your experience of what it's like to be a
2. Can you see yourself as a host, an educator, a tour guide, a
reservation clerk, a cook, and a maid? If not, do you know
someone who can do some or all of these things for you?
3. Do you know how your land is zoned and whether you are
allowed to build a cabin or add camping to your property? Have you
spoken yet with your county planning department?
4. Do you have the necessary cash to invest in a remodel or a
building or land grading, as well as all the furniture and
amenities necessary to host guests overnight? If not, can you
raise the cash?
5. Do you have an idea of how many nights you will need to be
booked, and at what room rate, to break even on your investment and
ultimately to make a profit?
6. Have you researched the local competition: what they charge,
what they offer, how often they are booked?
7. Have you thought about your legal structure and what you
might need to know about insurance necessary to cover your family,
your business, and your guests?
8. Even if you don't have a website of your own, do you
understand how the Internet works and how to use it as a tool for
9. Do you have any training in the hospitality industry in term
of customer service and delivery of experience? If not, have you
traveled enough to understand what is and is not acceptable for
10. Finally, and most importantly, have you included your
spouse or partner, and family members still living on the farm, in
this discussion? Is there a clear understanding of the commitment
this will take in terms of time, energy…and your
If you can answer the above questions with a resounding "Yes!"
then proceed cautiously, but consider seriously the added benefit
of hosting guests on your farm or ranch. Not only will you
diversify your farm activities, you will open a two-way street
between the rural life and the urban life that will likely benefit
us all in the long run.
America was built on the back of the small family farm and
ranch, a fading "tradition" in our 21st Century culture. There is
an opportunity to share a vital piece of our heritage through farm
stays, providing a retreat for some and an education for others,
but always a reconnection with the land and the story of our
From a Farm Stay U.S. blog post Feb. 15, 2010.
New Farmstay Manual Online
The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture has released
Farmstay, a how-to manual available for download as a series of PDF
files. The manual contains information about what a farmstay is,
developing a marketing strategy, applicable regulations, and
creating a business plan. Although this manual is specific to
Minnesota, there may be some excellent information here for anyone