While traditional agritourism outlets – corn mazes and pumpkin patches – remain popular attractions, North Carolina farmers are finding innovative ways to generate new streams of income. Weddings, farm-to-table events and educational workshops are drawing visitors to farms across the state.

Charlie Kissling, owner of Walnut Hollow Ranch in Hayesville, N.C., used his background in the restaurant industry to attract customers to his beef cattle farm.

“By 2010, the drop in the economy caught up to us over here in western North Carolina,” Kissling says. “It was right about that time when I thought about ways we could invest in the farm to try to get it to expand a little bit. Agritourism was the best logical choice since Clay County already has quite a bit of tourism. ”

While traditional agritourism outlets – corn mazes and pumpkin patches – remain popular attractions, North Carolina farmers are finding innovative ways to generate new streams of income. Weddings, farm-to-table events and educational workshops are drawing visitors to farms across the state. Charlie Kissling, owner of Walnut Hollow Ranch in Hayesville, N.C., used his background in the restaurant industry to attract customers to his beef cattle farm. “By 2010, the drop in the economy caught up to us over here in western North Carolina,” Kissling says. “It was right about that time when I thought about ways we could invest in the farm to try to get it to expand a little bit. Agritourism was the best logical choice since Clay County already has quite a bit of tourism. ” WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING Kissling added a kitchen to his farm store and began hosting farmto- table suppers featuring dishes made with beef from the farm. He also installed five RV connections on the property and converted a barn loft into a vacation rental apartment. He says he spent about five years in planning mode, investing in the infrastructure to make the farm experience as enjoyable as possible. Today, Kissling’s farm is a popular destination with daily farm tours, monthly suppers and pasture walks in the spring and fall. Kissling also offers cooking classes for his customers in the winter. In Randolph County, Ginnie Tate and her family’s Goat Lady Dairy invites visitors to a gourmet dinner featuring the farm’s artisan cheeses. Held monthly by reservation in the dairy barn’s dining room, the Dinner at the Dairy events help introduce visitors to farm life as well as give them a taste of locally grown products. The dairy also partners with a neighboring farm to host Open Farm Days, an event that invites families to explore the farms, ask the staff questions, tour gardens, pet animals and taste the dairy’s cheeses – all for free. CULTIVATING A CONVERSATION Britt and Fleming Pflan, owners of Celebrity Dairy in Siler City, began using agritourism as a marketing tool for their goat farm more than 20 years ago. “The farm tours started first, and the thinking was that people who might have been reluctant to Agricultural settings are becoming popular wedding venues.

Agricultural settings are becoming popular wedding venues. Photo courtesy of Sawyer Family Farmstead

Word Of Mouth Marketing

Kissling added a kitchen to his farm store and began hosting farm-to-table suppers featuring dishes made with beef from the farm. He also installed five RV connections on the property and converted a barn loft into a vacation rental apartment. He says he spent about five years in planning mode, investing in the infrastructure to make the farm experience as enjoyable as possible. Today, Kissling’s farm is a popular destination with daily farm tours, monthly suppers and pasture walks in the spring and fall. Kissling also offers cooking classes for his customers in the winter.

In Randolph County, Ginnie Tate and her family’s Goat Lady Dairy invites visitors to a gourmet dinner featuring the farm’s artisan cheeses. Held monthly by reservation in the dairy barn’s dining room, the Dinner at the Dairy events help introduce visitors to farm life as well as give them a taste of locally grown products. The dairy also partners with a neighboring farm to host Open Farm Days, an event that invites families to explore the farms, ask the staff questions, tour gardens, pet animals and taste the dairy’s cheeses – all for free.

The Lazy O Farm in Smithfield invites children to interact with animals, enjoy a hayride and experience life on a farm.

The Lazy O Farm in Smithfield invites children to interact with animals, enjoy a hayride and experience life on a farm.

Cultivating A Conversation

Britt and Fleming Pflan, owners of Celebrity Dairy in Siler City, began using agritourism as a marketing tool for their goat farm more than 20 years ago.

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“The farm tours started first, and the thinking was that people who might have been reluctant to try our products made out of goat’s milk would be charmed by the goats,” Fleming Pflan says. “Then we started hosting our dinners in 1990 – way before farm-to-fork was popular. We called it our third Sunday dinners. We figured if people came out for a social event, they would try the goat cheese and other things we make with it, and it wouldn’t seem so strange to them.”

Pflan says the tours and dinners resulted in a dramatic increase in their customer base, and became so popular with visitors that Britt took early retirement from his career as an aeronautical engineer and built a bed-and-breakfast on the property.

“Recently, we’ve hosted a lot of family reunions at the bed-and-breakfast,” Pflan says. “I’m struck by how much people miss going out to grandmother’s farm, sitting on the porch and rocking or just talking. That’s true for the dinners, too. It’s like going back in time. It’s away from the hustle and bustle. It’s a very nice way of life. It’s very special, and that’s what we want to share with people.”

NORTH CAROLINA AGRITOURISM [INFOGRAPHIC]

Natural Attractions

That nostalgia has led several brides to seek out farms as wedding and reception venues. Jackson Farm in Godwin offers brides simple elegance on a 10-acre wooded lot. The Guest House, a renovated farmhouse that dates back 100 years, is available for overnight rentals as well as special events. Chapel in the Woods in Louisburg and the Barn & Gardens of The Little Herb House in Raleigh both receive rave reviews for their scenic settings and for providing guests a quaint, rural experience.

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Celebrity Dairy also hosts weddings on the property, and Pflan says these agritourism experiences help bridge the gap between consumers and growers.

“I grew up on a farm, but we get so many people who have never been,” she says. “Some of them say their grandparents or great-grandparents had a farm, but we’re many generations away from the farm.”

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