Farmers are opening their gates to the public
Agritourism is a booming industry in the Ozarks, with more than 500 operations listed in the Missouri Farm Bureau agritourism directory alone. Agriculturists may be able to increase revenue by opening their doors to visitors.
Kelly Smith, director of marketing and commodities at Missouri Farm Bureau, said that many agritourism operations decide to open the farm doors to the public because of the need to bring in extra income to support another generation on the farm.
“There are a lot of operations out here where a son or daughter or nephew would like to come back to the farm,” Smith said. “But, that requires additional farm income.”
Agritourism allows existing farms to create new revenue streams without adding acreage to their operation, which is one of the draws for prospective agritourism operators.
“You might not be able to purchase additional acres to support the family, but if you can find new ways to use the acreage you already have, agritourism might be the way to do it,” Smith said.
Dwain Parsons, owner of Farmland Adventures, a corn maze and pumpkin patch in Springdale, Ark., said potential agritourism operators have to start with a love of people.
“If you don’t like people, it’s not for you,” Parsons said.
Farmland Adventures opened in 2011 and has entertained guests of all ages every fall since.
Smith said from there, the next step should be to network with others in the agritourism industry. Agriculturists can start networking by visiting existing agritourism operations, or by attending agritourism conferences, like the one hosted by Missouri Farm Bureau.
“Operators are usually very willing to help each other out,” Smith said.
Another resource for possible agritourism operators is the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association, which Farmland Adventures is a member of.
There are also agritourism consulting companies available to help operations get started, especially in the corn maze industry. Farmland Adventures works with a company called MazeQuest, based out of Pennsylvania.
“They’re the ones that really got us started,” Parsons said. “[They] put us maybe six or eight years down the road.”
After an operation decides to move forward with agritourism and determines what kind of venue they want to run, there are some regulations that must be considered. While each state has different regulations, Missouri and Arkansas are fairly similar. In fact, both states only lightly regulate the agritourism industry.
Missouri has made a conscientious effort to protect agritourism operators from liability lawsuits with the Missouri Agritourism Promotion Act.
“It’s mainly county regulations that you have to worry about, but also the state health departments,” Smith said. “They can make life difficult for agritourism.”
Smith said some of these county regulations may include planning and zoning regulations, which could limit the types of activities agritourism operations pursue. The health department will also get involved in food is sold onsite.
Farmland Adventures avoids the intricacies of food vendor regulations by limiting the hot food products they sell and inviting local food trucks to sell on their land instead.
“We don’t cook anything, and there’s not any hot stuff in the concession stand,” said LuDonna Parsons, Dwain’s wife. “We don’t have raw food issues or contamination issues.”
Even though it can be difficult to start an agritourism operation, there are many rewards to be reaped.
“It’s hard work being an agritourism operator, because people want to come to a place that looks good and is safe,” Smith said. “But there are a lot of opportunities.”
Opportunities include the possibility of adding income to the farm without adding acreage, allowing for another generation to come into the operation, and meeting people from all walks of life who want to learn about agriculture and have fun doing it.
With all these possibilities, it is likely that Missouri Farm Bureau will be adding more farms to their list of agritourism operations in the future – maybe even yours.