Agritourism Turned into Agri-education

When working farms offer activities and educational events to draw in the public there is anticipation the commercial venture will supply supplemental income to the traditional growing, harvesting and selling of crops. We call that agritourism. But when a farm purposely absorbs the expense of hosting up to 50 educational field trips each year in order to provide opportunity for youth to see where food comes from, and get a small taste of farm life, Cynthia Kapple calls that “agri-education”.

Cynthia started Midway Farms in 1998, primarily as a subsistence farm for her family.   In 2000, a potting bench turned into a self-serve roadside stand to sell excess produce grown on the farm. By 2008, the farm’s classic gambrel style red barn was converted into a store-front to sell produce and goods grown by Cynthia and other local farmers.

Located midway between Corvallis and Albany on Highway 20, Midway Farms has a classic looking roadside farm store and offers some unique products. In addition to marketing local, seasonal fresh produce, shoppers can find artisan cheeses, gluten-free snacks, custom grown flowers, dried herbs and teas, and other value added products. The farming system is described as “going beyond organic” to enhance the biodiversity of the land. A recent agritourism study completed by University of California Cooperative Extension focused on farm enterprises like these. The study found that nearly two-thirds of California farms with agritourism components plan to diversify their offerings or expand them over the next five years. The primary reason given is to increase profitability.

Cynthia Kapple is constantly thinking of creative ways to diversify the agritourism opportunities on the farm, such as offering three, one week Farm Experience Day Camps in the summer and hosting all-inclusive themed birthday parties on the farm. These activities provide revenue for the farm and helps offset the costs of farm tours which she freely gives. Cynthia says her “calling is sharing with kids that when it comes to buying food they have options beyond fast food.”

Grade school through university level classes visit the farm to learn about the farming life. They get to touch, smell and taste products from the farm. Cynthia does not charge any fees to public schools, home school groups and any other youth group seeking a farm experience.

Cynthia feels there is a disconnection between kids and what they know about farms and where food is actually produced. “There are kids who visit my farm who can’t tell the difference between a chick and a duck,” Cynthia said. She is pushing a message that there are healthier food choices than fast food restaurants provide. She knows that her young visitors might not be able to change their lifestyle now, but one day they will be decision makers and may remember their day on the farm. Perhaps then, they will choose fresh, local food.

Currently, agri-education activities have not increased direct sales from the farm. That’s probably because visitors don’t hear a sales pitch. “The kids don’t even realize there is stuff for sale here. That’s not the point,” explains Cynthia.

 The UC study also addressed this type of public service, “The most common agritourism activity (51%) was hosting school field trips, with only 17% charging a fee. With the exception of weddings, overnight stays, horse or wagon rides, and fishing or hunting, fewer than half of agritourism operators charged a fee, underscoring the public-service, educational and marketing/outreach nature of these activities.”

 As for Midway Farms and the Kapple family, they are also exploring fun new income streams that will permit them to share their farm with others. On August 6, 2011 from 6 to 11 p.m., there will be a Wine and Cheese Tasting evening with live music on the farm. Guests are invited to stroll through the gardens, enjoy local foods and music. There is a 21 years and older event and you can learn more about this event and others on the website.

 Midway Farms also participates in the Willamette River Country Trail, which is a collaborative marketing opportunity and part of the Oregon Country Trail system. Cynthia says, “It is great to experience the true sense of community I feel working with the other members of the Oregon Country Trails.” There are thirteen trails in Oregon, all supported by groups of business owners and aimed at providing tourism to enhance rural economics. 

Read the entire agritourism study completed by University of California Cooperative Extension.

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