On-farm-businesses; value-adding. I think everyone at some stage thinks “How can I make more money with the resources I’ve got?”. Retirement and succession issues mean we also sometimes think “How can we best use the farm given my/our changing abilities?”.
On our family farm, I know we thought about this many times, and tried a lot of different things. It wasn’t entirely by choice – the encroachment more than thirty years ago of Phytophora (locally known as jarrah dieback) into the avocado orchard, back before a successful treatment had been identified, meant that the farm needed a secondary income stream rather urgently. I come from a family of ideas people, but some of our implementations have been less than successful, hence many different attempts at what becomes value-adding to the same property. Some of those were, like other farmers around us, just trying out a different crop or foodstuff. In the last few years it’s been more about researching niche markets / secondary products from the crops/foodstuffs we have. And then, there’s the question of tourism. One resource we have in plenty is fresh air, beautiful scenery and peace and quiet. What if you could bring people onto the farm to enjoy the farm experience?
The three weeks we’ve spent away have been a chance for me to see what’s happening currently in the world of on-farm tourism. WA’s South West corner is full of places that have done that – the summer season down here is marvellous – beautiful weather, beautiful environments and beautiful food – as well as heavily booked out. I saw so many interesting examples of on-farm businesses and bringing farming and food production “to the people” that I’ve spent a week wondering where to start writing.
I think there were four main categories of farm-tourism businesses that I came across.
- Farmstays, that by and large provided scenic accommodation of B&B or guesthouse styles.
- Attractions located on farms / in farming areas but not exactly about farming itself, such as the various mazes, adventure parks or the occasional museum.
- Providoring – selling fresh food, meals and pre-prepared food for sale on or near the property of origin. Most obvious of this is wineries – lots and lots of wineries – but also dairy companies, chocolate factories, dried fruit, berries, icecream, nuts, olives and olive oil, herbs and spices and many other things. I’m going to tentatively count farmgate produce sales here, because even though they aren’t directly aimed at a “tourist experience”, the temptation of fresh produce is regularly used as part of tourist promotions to draw people into an area. Manjimup’s Cherry Festival and Donnybrook’s constant apple theme are clear examples, as are the “Harvest Highway” postcards the kids and I found in Bunbury (highway 1 from Pinjarra to Manjimup, if you’re wondering).
- Telling the story of farming and giving “farm experiences”. This is of particular and especial interest to me. Any farm or farm family that has decided the thing they’ve got to offer everyone is exactly what they’ve been doing all along, and have opened their doors to let people in (and possibly buy some stuff while there). My two favourite examples from this trip would be the Yallingup Shearing Shed and Silk Road. I’m also including animal farms here, which are really quite a cut down version of experiencing farming but they are about people and children experiencing real animals as opposed to just watching cartoons or videos of them.
Over the next few days I’ll put up a few posts discussing these categories, what we saw while travelling, what seemed to go well, observations related.