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Adventures in agritourism

Curt Arens Fencepost with field and sunsetting in background
CHARM OF RURAL LIFE: Sharing a farming operation with visitors through agritourism ventures offers a glimpse of rural life to folks who may have never experienced open spaces or agriculture before. But the benefits also are shared with the host farm family through friendships and connections that are made in the process.
Agritourism enterprises can add an income stream and help connect with consumers.

They didn’t call it agritourism when I was a young man, but that’s what it was. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, my family often boarded hunters from Michigan who came to Nebraska to hunt pheasants.

Over the years, the same families returned again and again. It could have been because my mother was a very good cook. It could have been because there were lots of pheasants to hunt in Nebraska in those days. Or, they might have been returning because of the connections we made with their families and the friendships we all shared.

Thanksgiving to remember

One Thanksgiving, the hunters decided to bring their entire families along with them to stay at our place and allow their wives and children to experience life on the farm. They teased their families before they headed to Nebraska that our farm was quite remote, without electricity or indoor plumbing and many of the amenities of the day. Of course, they were fibbing.

The joke was on the hunters when they got to Nebraska, because that Thanksgiving a gigantic snowstorm struck about the same time they arrived. The storm knocked out power to our farm for two days, so we were without electricity and plumbing for some time.

But in the end, everyone not only survived the ordeal, but they also had a great story to tell when they headed back to Michigan. One of those hunting friends moved to Nebraska. Their son worked for my parents when I was young. He finished high school in Crofton while working for my parents, graduated from a college in Nebraska and remained here. He married a local girl, and they raised their family, and he continued his professional career all in Nebraska.

Those connections that come about from agritourism enterprises can be strong like that, and beneficial to everyone involved. Visitors become lifelong friends.

Bus stop

When our children were very young and we were farming full time, we occasionally hosted tour buses on the farm. At that time, we were raising black oil sunflowers, and cleaning and packaging our own wild birdseed for sale. This was of interest to the folks on these tours.

I remember that the first time one of the tour buses stopped by the farm, I hid all of our old machinery in the shed, because I was embarrassed about how old and “experienced” much of our equipment was at the time. But the visitors kept asking about our machinery.

So, the next time the bus stopped, I had the “experienced” machinery out on display. Many of the travelers were former farmers, so they enjoyed talking old iron with my dad and the family.

We told the guests about the history of our little valley and our farm, about our family history and a little about the historic buildings around our farmstead. The big hit of each bus tour was our little donkey, “Valentine.”

In the end, our family probably gained more from those visits than we gave. The visitors were kind to us and enjoyed watching our children play around the farm and show off their assorted pets and critters. We gained a little income from those stops, but the real treasure was the memories that we gained, as well as friendships that developed along the way.

There are certainly many business-related decisions that need to be made when taking on a new agritourism enterprise, along with the regular farming operation. From our standpoint, however, such enterprises offer many benefits that are even beyond a new income stream.

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