Would a Farm Tour Help Your Rural Community?

by Joanne Steele on April 12, 2010

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Just the idea of a farm tour can make small towns roll their eyes. Most that I’ve seen in the US are huge undertakings for small chambers or other organizations.

I found an alternative that any area with even a few agritourism offerings should consider.Circle Farm Tours, BC Canada

In British Columbia, a number of small towns east of Vancouver have collaborated to provide six tours that branded together are the Circle Farm Tours.

Donna Dixson, the organizer of the Abbotsford segment spoke at the BC Rural Tourism Conference where she outlined the “how to” which I’ll share today.

Donna got permission from the Agassiz/Harrison Mills folks to take their idea to the next level with a Circle Farm Tour of the nearby Abbotsford area. The other tours followed.

If you look at the offerings on the 6 tours you’ll notice that all are not working farms. Expanding the definition allowed for rural, locally made products, rural wildlife operations, festivals and farmers markets and more.

Here’s what makes this concept work:

Each town is responsible for their own farm tour, within the parameters set by the Circle Farm Tours concept. This spreads the cost and the work. Each town is responsible for:

  • Paying $4000 which has been used for the web site, print advertising, creating display racks for each tour participant and more general marketing efforts.
  • Identifying their own participants and monitoring their activities. Part of this is training and motivation.

Donna talked about getting her participants together to learn about each other and to learn some simple tracking methods and customer service techniques. Participants are often not tourism related businesses when they join a Circle Farm Tour, so a little training in these areas is helpful for them and for the success of the whole operation.

  • Helping each participant figure out how to use the tours to increase their profits, either by charging a small admission as we saw at the Kilby Farm, or by selling their products.

Each participant is responsible for:

  • Paying $450 which together covers the cost of printing the Circle Farm Tours brochure for their area.
  • Helping to promote the other participants in their own tour as well as displaying the brochures for all the other tours. They are asked to talk up the tours to people coming to their business.
  • Be open during the hours published in the brochure.
  • Providing a minimum level of safety for people coming to visit.
  • Tracking how many visitors actually come. Nothing fancy – just keep a tally of how many people show up.

Hopcott Meats

On our way from Kamloops, BC to Vancouver, we stopped at several places listed on Circle Farm Tours. It’s a little early in the season, but the Kilby Heritage Farm was open and bustling with spring activity. The Raptor Recovery center requires an appointment to visit, which we didn’t have. And Hopcott Premium Meats was a great stop we’d have missed without the Circle Farm Tours map.

The benefits:

The tours are helping small ag businesses be more profitable.

The tours give visitors a way to get off the highway and enjoy a rural area. The Circle Tours maps give people that little bit of needed encouragement. I’m a natural explorer, and having those maps in hand got me into areas I’d never have taken the time to explore without them.

By collaborating on 6 tours rather than creating one big tour, the work is more equally shared, and the project is more easily sustained. A sad note, Mission was unable to generate their $4000 this year, so isn’t included in the collaboration. Because there are 6 separate tours, their misfortune didn’t take down the whole project.

Having a number of small options for touring rather that a massive map covering miles, visitors find the prospect more inviting. They can easily complete one tour in a limited amount of time, and look forward to the others rather than leaving a massive tour unfinished.

So the message I got from this operation is that by thinking small, the benefits can be huge!

Do you have a farm tour in your area? Is it working? Who takes the responsibility for keeping it going year to year?

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