Ellison is a park ranger's daughter and farmer's daughter with a love for all things agriculture and outdoors.
The History Behind Our Family Farm
To give some background on why we ventured into agritourism and farm-based education, you first must understand the history of our family farm. Our property, almost at the end of a peninsula in Anne Arundel County Maryland, has been in my family for generations.
My great-grandfather built the house I live in and all the original buildings on the farm. It was used as a family homestead for years and evolved into a productive business with a roadside stand.
Anne Arundel County took the majority of our family property to build the school complex we are now surrounded by—by the right of eminent domain. In other words, they paid my great grandfather for the property, but he was not given the choice as to whether or not he wanted to sell it. He fought tooth and nail, but now since 1976, we have been left with only a small portion of our original property.
Growing produce and maintaining the roadside stand became harder and harder to maintain without the original acreage, and good farm help was becoming harder and harder to find.
Changing With the Times
In 2000, when I was 15, my parents decided it was time for a transition and they built a barn and fences and we became Dun-Pikin Farm. It was originally planned to be a horse boarding facility but has since evolved into a riding-lesson program and summer camp facility.
Now maintaining horses instead of crops adds another problem. Horseback riding in our area is very seasonal. You have to make hay when the sun shines, as the old farmers say, which leaves the problem of having to maintain the horses all year round when they only work a portion of the year.
As one can imagine it is quite expensive, and we began looking into ways to make extra income for our property.
We Offered Agritourism
The first thing we added to our program is agritourism by inviting the public onto our farm for birthday parties they get an agricultural experience not otherwise readily available in this suburban area. While at the same time helping to increase our revenue.
Pony parties were the first thing we added. We provide a nice grassy area with picnic tables, access to petting animals, and of course pony rides. As our parties got more and more popular we added options like games, craft projects, and face painting.
We began to offer our petting zoo as a traveling service for events as well as people's backyard parties.
In the suburban area we live in, many kids have no experience seeing and touching farm animals up close or getting to ride a pony or feed it a treat. Which makes farm birthday parties at a reasonable price a popular option for families in our area. We have many customers who have had more than one party on our farm and refer friends.
Anything that brings the public out onto farms for recreational purposes is considered agritourism. Agritourism comes in many forms. For us it looks like birthday parties, traveling petting zoo, and pony rides. There are many other ways to use your farm for agritourism: things like corn mazes, pumpkin patches, "pick your own" fields, or cut your own Christmas tree.
Depending on the size of your farm, what you do with it, and the resources that you have to start new projects, agritourism may be a good way to help increase your income. With the goal of using the knowledge, you have of agriculture and things you already have on your farm to bring people in who will pay for a farm experience.
We Also Offer Farm-Based Education
We also have become involved in farm-based education as well. It is distinctly different from agritourism. Farm-based education is using your farm to host educational events. In our case, since we are surrounded by the school complex that used to be our farm fields we offer field trips for nearby schools.
When hosting field trips, teachers have certain curriculum points that they are trying to touch on. If you want to get into school groups you should look into the sort of things the teachers are looking for in field trips and tailor your programs to meet those needs.
Since most states now require students to take at least one outdoor field trip each year, teachers are looking for places that can provide the type of experiences that they need. Many states even have guidelines and curriculum already in place for farm-based education.
If you know what the teachers are looking for you can see if you can find a way to meet their needs on your farm and bring in a little extra money.
Things to Think About
There are some things to consider before jumping on either bandwagon.
- Do you really want to invite people to your property?
- Can you handle the interruption of daily routine and if necessary, are you willing to make concessions to allow to make some extra money?
- Inviting the public on your farm also will require additional liability insurance if you don't already have it. Will the amount you make in your new venture balance with the cost of additional insurance? Luckily for us, this wasn't an issue since we already have liability insurance for riding lessons and summer camp.
- Where you will park vehicles?
- How many people can you accommodate?
- Do you have the extra staff to handle events or the knowledge teaching personalities to host school field trips?
There are so many ways of using agritourism and farm-based education to produce extra income on your farm. You would be surprised how the things we do every day and experiences we have living the farm life interest people who don't have access to it. If you brainstorm and figure out what you have to offer the public, come up with a program and advertise it, with time and dedication you can monetize on that.
Make an Impact on the Future of Agriculture
The extra money is good of course, but it isn't just about money. Those of us who have grown up on farms have had many experiences and learned life lessons that other walks of life don't so readily provide. This is an opportunity to share those experiences with your community.
Having the public on your farm will also help them to realize the importance of preserving our farmland. Especially small family farms like mine. Small family farms are dwindling all over the country. We need to promote agriculture, whatever aspect of it we are a part of, to the younger generation.
The changing world we live in isn't promoting agriculture. In fact, the popular media sheds a lot of negative light on it. In terms of the controversial newer farming methods of using genetically modified seeds and factory farming our livestock.
This is our chance to get people out on our farms and get them interested. Are they probably going to want to be a farmer when they grow up? I know that is doubtful, but we can impress on kids the importance of preserving farmland, knowing where their food comes from, and appreciating the people like us who are holding onto our small farms for generations to come.
About the Author
Thank you for reading my article. I'm 33, a park rangers daughter and a farmer's daughter. My mom worked on the farm and my dad was a farmer as well as being the Superintendent of the park down the street. I have lived the farm life my whole life and have had a great understanding of the importance of preserving our farmland and the great outdoors for generations to come.
I'm also a river rat, spending time on the Magothy River fishing, swimming, and soaking up the sun.
I'm a professional horsewoman. I'm horse crazy and have been teaching for 18 years now. I'm a dog rescue advocate and have fostered over 65 dogs. Coonhounds and bloodhounds are my breeds of choice.
I live in the farmhouse my Great Grandparents lived in, with my boyfriend who is a retired 21-year U.S Army Veteran, and we are never leaving! The farm life is the only life for me!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Ellison Hartley (author) from Maryland, USA on August 05, 2018:
It has definitely been a learning experience sharing our farm with the public but seems to be what is making things work for now.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2018:
I enjoyed reading about the history of your farm and business. I'm glad that you've been able to retain the family farm even though it's changed so much. I like the benefits for visitors that you've described.
Ellison Hartley (author) from Maryland, USA on August 03, 2018:
Thank you and glad you enjoyed it !
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2018:
This was most interesting to read. It would seem that your family changed their lifestyles to adapt to less land but still accentuating the beauty of farm life. Kudos to them and to you for doing what you can to educate future generations of people about the importance of family farms.