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 farmer?
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 marketing?
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 travelers?
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 relationship(s)?
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 fore-fathers.
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 to consider.