The Oregon State University Extension Service is starting a new online training course this year for farmers statewide interested in starting or expanding agritourism ventures.
The purpose of the course is twofold. First, it is to help producers explore new opportunities for generating income. Second, it is to help them avoid common pitfalls of agritourism.
“As a participant, you will learn about the types of agricultural tourism and determine if it is a good fit for your whole farm business,” said Melissa Fery, associate professor of practice with the Small Farms Program and one of the program’s instructors.
Agritourism is on the rise in Oregon. Many farmers say it is an opportunity to make additional income, boost a farm’s popularity and expose urbanites to farm life.
However, agritourism also carries risks and costs. According to Jim Johnson, land use and water planning coordinator at the state Department of Agriculture, common challenges in agritourism include land use violations, permitting problems, unhappy neighbors and liability issues sometimes escalating to litigation.
The new training course was designed in part to help farmers navigate or avoid these issues.
The course was funded by a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture managed by the Western Center for Risk Management Education.
The curriculum was created by OSU Extension instructors Audrey Comerford, agritourism coordinator, and Fery, of the Small Farms Program.
“We felt agritourism is an opportunity for farmers, but there’s also a lot that goes into decision-making, including laws and regulations,” said Fery. “We wanted farmers and ranchers that are considering some kind of agritourism to be able to do so on a correct pathway.”
The online course, Fery said, will be self-paced so that farmers can complete it at their convenience.
The curriculum includes text, videos and worksheets about managing risk, understanding legal requirements, marketing farm businesses effectively, hospitality and customer service. Farmers will also have the opportunity to consult with course instructors.
Fery said OSU plans to offer the course long-term and eventually hopes to make it available year-round, but for the first year, the course is only open to new participants this spring. The deadline to register for the 2022 course is March 31.
The cost is $20, which pays for maintenance of the website learning platform. Scholarships are available upon request.
Fery said she’s excited about the opportunity for farms to expand or begin successful agritourism enterprises. There are many possibilities, she said, ranging from a crop farm selling value-added products to a sheep rancher teaching an on-farm fiber arts class.
“There’s a lot of diversity within agricultural tourism,” she said. “It’s not just pumpkin patches and corn mazes. There are other subtle ways that you can have the public on your farm that might lead to something that could be beneficial — like offering classes related to farm products that you grow or raise. It doesn’t have to be these great big events. There are also smaller ways to do agritourism that can be effective.”