CRAFT WNC Farmer Round Table
January 27th, 2016
Facilitated by Carl Evans & Julie Mansfield of Mountain Harvest Organic Farm
Farmer Round Tables are open-discussion group conversations geared toward our farmer members about a specific topic, facilitated by one of our own CRAFT members. It’s a place to share ideas and experiences with advanced farming topics on a deeper level than we can get into at the CRAFT farm tours.
Carl and Julie have been farming in Spring Creek, NC since 1997. They have a diversity of enterprises on their farm from annual vegetables, to pigs, to dairy cows, and a pizza oven! But, their newest project is a whole new type of endeavor. They are currently building a timber frame guest cabin on the farm, felling and milling the logs themselves, and they intend to build a second one. The jury is still out on if they’ll do it all themselves again or not. The idea is that income from these cabins will help them continue to farm on their land at a smaller scale as they get older and can’t physically farm like they used too, and then support them into retirement.
For the discussion, “alternative” farm income streams refers to farm enterprises that may not strictly be agriculture in the sense of selling a product, but support the farm and farmer nonetheless. Much of our initial conversation was about what adding “non-farming” enterprises to your farm means to your self-identification as a farmer. If this new thing takes up more of my time, and is a larger income stream than my farm, am I still a farmer? What business am I in?
Carl pointed out that this process can definitely be a balancing of idealism and reality, and the transition may be the toughest part. But, the bottom line we’re all striving for is to stay farming on the farm, so what do you need to do to keep doing that? Farming means a lot of different things to different people, the key is recognizing your larger goals and making the most of your resources. The alternative farm income streams we brainstormed all had one thing in common – they are ways a farmer can capitalize on capital they may already have – their knowledge, space, or providing a service. Oftentimes, farmers have more of these types of resources at their disposal than they realize.
Some Alternative Farm Income Streams:
- It’s amazing what people will pay for knowledge that they won’t pay for a farm product.
- You have more knowledge than you know. It’s just that we know how much we don’t know, but the basics of what we know people are interested in that.
- Week long/day long workshops on basic skills
- It can be helpful if people not only gain knowledge but can take something way after they are finished – tray of plants that grafted, tended to put in their gardens etc.
- Create space for events to happen. No need to organize the whole event, just be the location.
- Once you have the space set up all you have to do is maintain it and groups can rent it out for different day events, or workshops you don’t have to lead yourself like yoga classes, retreats, business meetings, etc.
- Have to be really into hosting people, and having people on your farm, in your space
- how do you manage people on your farm, while you’re farming?
- Can make the farm part of the package deal.
- Definitely has the highest investment factor
- But, there are lots of ways for people to find you nowadays and types of lodging experiences people are looking for
- Glamping, i.e “Glamorous Camping”
- Eco housing
- Farm Stays
- Tiny Houses & Airstream trailers
- Air BnB
- Vacation Rentals By Owner – VRBO.com Glamping, i.e “Glamorous Camping”
- Outdoor sports
- Hunting leases
- Sporting clay tours
- Disc golf
- Field trips/Farm Tours:
- Several folks have done these with school groups in particular.
- Important to tell people when you’re available for tours so they don’t show up disrupting your workday.
- Self-guided tour: have a map of the farm, and let people explore on their own
- Create set costs for the number of people and amount of time for each tour.
- Foraging tours
- Paid Apprenticeships:
- People may be willing to pay you to work for you and learn from you
- If you go down this route you’ll need to establish a solid education plan
- There have been instances of this across the country
- Books/Articles/Speaking Engagements:
- Sharing your knowledge in professional forums.
- Corn Maizes/Pumpkin Patches
- Bike tours/Culinary Tours
- Farm Store or Stand/U-Pick
- Farm dinners
How do you go about getting people to take advantage of the opportunities you’re creating? What’s the approach?
- Website is an absolute must
- Possible pay people to do it for you?
- Internet research – look at other websites you like, what stands out?
- Get some photos taken by a professional
- Get connected with other groups to do some joint marketing
- Partnering may be necessary at the beginning to get exposure
- How can you tap into what’s already going on around you?
- An asset of WNC, people are already coming here – farmers can take advantage of the flow of people with lodging, activities, etc.
- people are looking for an experience, and to get out of their element.
Thank you all for sharing your inquisitive thoughts and honest experiences, thanks to Carl & Julie for helping facilitate such an interesting & needed discussion. Until next time!
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director.She grew up in Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, and has made her home in Western North Carolina. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC – Chapel Hill in Anthropology and Geography in 2006, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University in May 2011. Gaining as much experience as she could she worked with several other regional nonprofits in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. When she isn’t visiting farms all around this end of the state as Farmer Programs coordinator you can usually find her digging in her garden or adventuring alongside her husband Walker, the farm manager at Hickory Nut Gap Farm.