Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Farm Stays, Diversification, Legislation

Kate Hammil compiled her choices for the "Top ten alternative lodging options" for Gadling.com. Here's what she says about Farm Stays:
When visiting a city, I generally like to stay in the city. I want to be able to step outside of my lodging directly into the fray. I want to wander all day down cobble stones streets, and then be able to totter home after a few drinks to fall asleep to the sounds of the city. But in some areas, the way of life is more rural. In these places, I want to get the full experience. Here, I want to look out my window and see rolling fields. I want to see how the people live off the land, and I want to retire each night to watch the sunset from my deck while eating food produced just a few steps from where I'm standing. In these places, I want to stay at an agritourismo.

Like a bed and breakfast, and agritourismo is family run and generally offers breakfast included in the accommodation. But an agritourismo or farm stay also offers much more. Guest will get an education in farming while immersing themselves in nature – horseback riding, wandering through fields, and learning about (or even helping with) the operations of the property.

Also, Homegrown.org, an offshoot of Farm Aid, recently highlighted farm vacations, along with this photo from Liberty Hill Farm in Vermont.
Strength in Diversification

Recent news tidbits from throughout the USA have discussed the importance of farm diversification for long-term viability, particularly in this economy. Here are four examples:

3. Check out this 5-minute video report about Oklahoma agritourism.  The interviewees stress again and again that long-term economic viability, for farmers, goes hand-in-hand with diversification. "It's like a bathtub," says one farmer, "You wouldn't want to build one with only one leg."

4. Agritourism speaker and consultant Jane Eckert urges farmers to consider blogging as part of their direct-to-consumer marketing plan. The importance of diversification, clearly, applies to marketing as well as crops.

1. A Georgia agritourism farm was selected to be the Bulloch County Farm Family of the Year. The family switched from traditional row cropping to growing fruits and vegetables, while also adding agritourism in 2001. "It's important," said awardee Al Clark, "There's many, many kids that the only time they see a farm is when they come to ours." 

5. Community members in S. Woodstock, VT have come together to buy a bankrupt water buffalo farm to save it from becoming a lamb feedlot and slaughterhouse, according to an article in the Rutland Herald. The Woodstock residents who united to buy the farm plan to turn it into an innovative dairy, creamery, and education center. Considering the dire situation of VT dairy farms - who are receiving $1.20 for a gallon of milk that costs $1.80 to produce - the future of a diversified dairy that offers cheesemaking classes and processes its own milk will be interesting to watch.

In Goodhue County, Minn., planning commissioners are trying to resolve conflicts between a winery and its neighboring residents. Because agritourism is not addressed in county ordinances, some of the winery's neighbors have complained that the winery's agritourism activities are illegal. According to an article in the Red Wing Republican Eagle,
"Commissioners say they want some authority over agri-tourism to ensure out-county areas keep their rural feel and that people remain safe. They don't want that oversight disrupting farmers who depend on selling their goods to make a living."
Because agritourism is growing and remains largely ignored in the lawbooks, I expect we'll see a growing amount of agritourism legislation, as communities seek a balance between retaining their rural character and welcoming visitors to their area.

Friday, November 20, 2009

VT Farm Stay - Trevin Farms, news from Canada and the UK

Stevie, the author of a blog called Garden Therapy, visited Trevin Farms Bed and Breakfast in Central Vermont, and came back with a great photos and a report called Sassy Goats, Begging Chickens, and Chevre. Trevin Farms offers a 3-day chevre-making class that, according to Stevie, produced a pound of the most delightfully light and delicate cheese.

In international news, Farm Stay UK recently held its annual conference, reported here by the Scunthorpe Telegraph. Here's a quote from Steve Ward, one of the conference speakers: "Farming is traditionally a fairly lonely livelihood and we wanted to get close to our customers. It coincided with people becoming more interested in local food."

And in BC, Canada, Metro Vancouver's board is urging the province to allow the Agricultural Land Commission to limit the size of homes built on farmland. They also want to raise the minimum requirement for farm income to limit who qualifies for the reduced agricultural land tax rates. The idea is to encourage productive uses of farmland while discouraging those who build rural "dreamhomes" on farmland, failing to preserve the farmland but still qualifying for the reduced tax rates. "It's really unfair for people to buy a farm property, place a house in the center and basically make it unviable for farming," says Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, vice-chair of Metro's agriculture committee.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New York news bits

Cornell Cooperative Extension recently hosted an agritourism workshop in Greene County, NY. Here's The Daily Mail quoting Sherry Hull, of Hull-O Farms, who presented during the workshop:
I'm not going to lie, [hosting guests] is hard work. And we are slaves to the weather and government. But whenever I feel stressed, I pull out one of the guest books and read the passage a little boy said years ago when he stayed at our farm. 'This may be the best day of my whole life,' he wrote.

An article in the Star Gazette on Schuyler County, NY discusses a study on the county's agricultural economy. While the author of the study, Jim Ochterski, says that the county has a healthy ag economy, the study also suggests an action plan for county farms to do even better. One of his recommendations is "Developing and marketing authentic farm tourism experiences."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New York State farm stays: Brookton Hollow Farm

Central New York’s Finger Lakes region, named for a handful of long, skinny lakes carved out by glaciers, has become famous for its wineries, and has a rich local foods culture that is beautifully displayed in places like the Ithaca Farmers Market.

Only a few miles from Ithaca, Brookton Hollow Farm and its dry bean and grain label, Cayuga Pure Organics, have become vital suppliers of New York’s burgeoning locavore population. Not only are the farm’s beans organic, they are also far fresher, more tender, faster cooking, and tastier than most dry beans. Brookton Hollow Farm’s owners, Erick and Debby Smith, host an organic, vegetarian, 3-bedroom bed and breakfast in their lovely farm home. Guests are welcome to explore the farm’s 135 acres, walk through the meadows and along Six-Mile Creek, go birding and wildlife watching, or simply relax in a hammock or on the porch. The B&B features solid wood construction and simple d├ęcor, and is heated entirely with wood. Erick and Debby built the house in 1984 with a focus on energy efficiency – the walls are 9 inches thick, and the house is fitted with solar water heating and electric systems.
Erick grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan. He was so excited to plow the fields that he used to run home from school to get on the tractor. He didn't return to farming, however, until he reached his 50s, after a career teaching mathematics. Even today, Erick finds cultivating fields crops deeply satisfying: he loves the process of taking a field unsuitable for growing crops, then turning over the ground, planting, and watching the seeds come up. Debby, a photographer, has restored and reopened the historic Brooktondale General Store. In addition to providing the village with healthy groceries, the general store now acts as a vital community center. Business for the dry beans and flour has been steadily improving, with Cayuga Pure Organics selling to the local co-op grocer and Mexican restaurant, as well as farmers markets and co-ops in New York City. Still, it's hard to compete with imported organic beans from China. By cutting out the middleman, Cayuga Pure Organics has gained more control over its prices. Some larger, conventional dry bean farmers have even admitted to envying the company’s strategy of selling directly to the consumer. Erick and Debby also rent an adjacent field to an organic farmer who raises vegetables using draft horses under the name The Gardens of Earthly Mirth. After buying the farm in 1976, Erick and Debby had a u-pick strawberry operation for a few years. Finding themselves with excess space when their children left the house, the couple decided to open a B&B. They hoped to continue meeting wonderful people like those who came to the farm to pick strawberries.

If you go:
Erick and Debby offer a 3-bedroom Bed and Breakfast, weekends only, in a modern green-built farmhouse on their 135-acre dry bean and grain farm. No children under 8 except by arrangement. Rates for two are $95-125.

18 Banks Rd
Brooktondale, New York 14817
(607) 273-5725

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This and that - news updates

I've been traveling lately, so to catch up, I have a scattered bunch of articles and
blog posts to report on:

The LA Times surveyed its readers to find out their picks for their favorite underrated vacation spots. Agritourism is mentioned in the first section, on Charlevoix, Quebec.

Wendy Redal, a columnist for Gaiam Life, wrote a nice overview of agritourism in a piece called Fall on the Farm: Agritourism Offers Plenty to Savor. She gives details on some Wisconsin farms as well.

The Review Lady blog gave a nice report of Smithfield Farm Bed and Breakfast in Virginia, along with musings on Michael Pollan and some lovely photos like the one to the right.

Southwest Virginia is developing an artisan network of crafts and farms called 'Round the Mountain that will be linked by a trail system, much like The Crooked Road, a wonderful heritage music trail. I love this trail idea as a way to connect people with out-of-the-way artisans and farms.

Western North Carolina farmers can apply for grants, due January 2010, via a program called Ag Options. The original aim of the grant program was to ensure the sustainability of area farms through the decline of tobacco farming. Today, the program supports the long-term viability of farms in the region by encouraging sustainable farm growth and diversification. Farms with goals to increase agritourism or utilize alternative energy are encouraged to apply.
Photo: The McDowell News

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Consumer Price Index 2009

The USDA recently published data on this year's Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food, as well as forecasts for next year. The CPI is a "market basket" of selected foods that is meant to reflect the foods purchased by a typical consumer, and is used to track retail food prices from year to year. The USDA predicts low-to-moderate food price inflation in 2009 of two to three percent - which is lower than 2007 and 2008 levels and similar to 2006, when the CPI rose by 2.4%.

The real news, however, is this:
The CPI for all food decreased from August to September 2009, was unchanged from July to August, and is now 0.2 percent below the September 2008 level. For the first time since 1967, the food CPI is below the previous year's level as declines in meat, dairy, and produce prices have pushed the food CPI to negative levels—a phenomenon that has not been seen in 42 years.
The analysis goes on to say that rising energy costs will likely put an end to this "deflationary period." Also notable is that the foods that have decreased in price are the unprocessed foods in the "food at home" category, in other words, meat, eggs, dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This data supports what we already know: farmers, especially those who rely solely on selling their goods on the wholesale market, are having a really hard time right now. Another USDA data set on farm to consumer price spreads suggests that farmers generally receive about 15 to 30% of the consumer food dollar. So in recent months, farmers have been receiving a small portion of a shrinking number, since the cost of unprocessed food has fallen.

On the other hand, I've heard anecdotally that farmers with direct-to-consumer sales strategies, for instance those who sell at farm stands and farmers markets, are doing better than ever.  I'm interested to see the results of the research the USDA is doing on the value that different types of farms add to their goods.