on Tuesday, October 29, 2019
On a hobby farm, profit is secondary to passion. You can grow or raise whatever you like without giving much thought to money. But if you want to make your small farm profitable, you have to treat it like a business, not a hobby.
It starts with a market. There has to be one if you hope to turn a profit. Without a demand for your wares, your products will go nowhere instead of into the hands of customers. Even then, your inputs could outweigh your production. And a bad run of weather, changing market conditions, or global economics could sink your season.
Small farms often aren’t built to overcome those obstacles, forcing many farmers to get creative and find new ways to make money off their land. Across Alabama and Tennessee, many farmers have turned to these alternative ideas for additional farm income.
Turning a Farm Into an Agritourism Destination
Instead of delivering your products to consumers, you can bring the consumers to you. There’s a growing public interest in understanding where food comes from and reestablishing a connection to rural areas. Over the past decade, many farms have jumped on this opportunity to supplement their traditional farm income.
Your farm tourism ideas are only limited by your imagination. Depending on your crops, animals, land, and buildings, you can develop an attraction that draws traffic in the offseason or through all seasons.
1. Pick-Your-Own Produce Farms
Fruit trees are ripe for picking — from farm tourists. Apple, cherry, peach, plum, and pear trees grow well in the East South Central states. Other appetizing specialty crops or seasonal favorites like pumpkins can also attract eager pickers.
2. Corn Mazes
After harvest, turn your fields into mazes or other must-see shapes. Finding your way through a corn maze is a popular autumn tradition, especially around Halloween.
3. Hayrides and Wagon Rides
Hitch a trailer to your compact tractor or utility tractor and pull people around your property. You can simply take them on existing roads and trails or haul them to attractions all over your land.
4. Petting Zoos
If you raise domesticated animals, they are gentle enough to introduce to the public. Kids especially love meeting and feeding farm animals.
5. Trail Rides
A combination of good trails and good horses means you could provide guided rides around your property.
6. Field Trips and Tours
By offering a variety of agricultural tourism attractions, you can draw and schedule bigger groups to come to your farm. Local schools and community youth organizations regularly plan educational activities for their kids.
7. Special Events
Authentic or updated, farms offer a rustic escape from urban living. Many farmers turn a barn or outbuilding into an event space to hold weddings, parties, and special celebrations. If you have good infrastructure, flat land, and scenic pastures, you could even host small community festivals — or come up with your own.
8. Christmas Tree Farms
When thinking of winter crops, Christmas trees aren’t the first thing to come to mind. But reserving a piece of your land to grow evergreens around the holidays is a great way to keep yourself busy and your profits rolling in year-round. Christmas trees are always in demand from traditionalists who decorate their homes with a fresh-cut tree every year.
9. Food Tastings
Sometimes what you make a farm living off of doesn’t lend itself to easy picking or eating. You can still introduce customers to your farm and your products by holding food tastings or similar events. After your livestock, poultry, or crops have been processed, invite the public to sample your products or buy directly from your farm.
Growing Specialty Crops
Not everyone wants to open up their land to the public. You may prefer to do what you do best — farm crops.
Specialty crops offer a different type of opportunity to appeal directly to consumers. These crops have public appeal — it might be widespread or more niche. Specialty crops are supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through block grants. So you can apply for government support to offset the costs of growing specialty crops.
Each state — Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi included — offers the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to help make farming these crops more competitive. There are hundreds of specialty crops eligible for grant money, but they all fall into these types of plants:
- Fruits and tree nuts
- Culinary herbs and spices
- Medicinal herbs
- Annual bedding plants
- Potted flowering plants
- Potted herbaceous perennials
- Cut flowers
- Cut cultivated greens
- Foliage plants
- Christmas trees
- Deciduous flowering trees
- Broadleaf evergreens
- Deciduous shade trees
- Landscape conifers
- Deciduous shrubs
There’s also a long list of ineligible crops. Check the USDA’s comprehensive list of specialty crops or talk to your state’s Department of Agriculture to see what you can and cannot grow to be considered. They may also have information on the most profitable specialty crops to grow in this climate.
Use your local resources too — the farming community, your neighbors, the local extension office, and the chamber of commerce. You may find there’s demand for crops you’ve never even considered or there’s a specific need in agritourism in your area. Because if you can identify an unmet need in a new market, you’re first in line to seize the opportunity and make your small farm more profitable.
- small farms