Ag Tourism reshapes farm operations
Want to find out how goat’s-milk cream cheese is made? Check out the daily tours to Thomas Kafsack’s Surfing Goat Dairy in Kula, Maui. On the special two-hour Grand Dairy Tour, you can even be a goatherder and try your hand at milking a goat.
“For many of our visitors, it’s a unique experience. Lots of them come from big cities and have never been to a farm,” says Kafsack, a former software company executive from Germany, whose 5-year-old gourmet goat-cheese farm has been welcoming visitors since 2002. Last year, tour revenue alone at the dairy grew by an amazing 177 percent, from $9,762 in 2003 to $27,050, due to a huge increase in visitors and paid dairy tours. In 2004, 5,226 visitors toured the dairy, nearly triple the 1,922 in 2003.
Surfing Goat Dairy is among the increasing number of farms gaining new markets for their products and boosting their bottom line with ag-tourism activities. These include selling products directly from the farm, operating a bed-and-breakfast and offering educational farm tours, horseback riding, festivals and concerts, according to the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service (HASS). An October 2004 HASS report pegged ag-tourism-related income at $33.9 million in 2003, up 30 percent from 2000’s $26 million. While only 3.4 percent, or 187, of Hawaii’s 5,500 farms engaged in ag-tourism in 2003, that represents a 48 percent increase from the 126 farms in 2000. According to the survey, interest in ag-tourism appears to be strong, as an additional 145 farms indicated plans to start ag-tourism activities in 2004 or in the future.
Neighboring Alii Kula Lavender farm expects its visitor market to increase by 20 percent this year, thanks to van tours, advertising, sales incentives (such as Hawaiian Air bonus miles), national media coverage on the Travel Channel and old-fashioned word-of-mouth, says marketing director Lani Medina. The farm has hosted over 10,000 visitors since it began in February 2002.
“Our challenge is not getting more visitors, but growing carefully to keep what makes our farm special, the feeling of coming to a family’s home,” she says of the Upcountry Maui farm specializing in 31 varieties of Hawaii-grown lavender, featured in an exclusive product line that includes bath and body, culinary, aromatherapy, apparel and specialty gifts.
“We created the products first and developed the tours to bring customers to the products,” she explains of the popularity of their tea, luncheon and seasonal wreath tours which target the 35-plus age group, with an emphasis on wellness and healthy lifestyles. About 98 percent of Alii Kula Lavender’s visitors are local residents, and two-thirds are women.
Parker Ranch on Hawaii Island, a veteran of ag-tourist activities since the 1970s, also emphasizes the importance of determining the destination’s unique character in looking for ag-tourist activities, says vice president of marketing and development Diane Quitiquit.
“We are the attraction in Waimea,” says Quitiquit of the ranch’s wagon rides, horseback riding, paniolo country store, visitor museum, annual rodeo and horse races, art exhibits, festivals and other visitor attractions, which reflect the history and culture of Waimea’s cowboy heritage and the open space and outdoor lifestyle of North Kohala. The addition of All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) rides have provided safe adventures for the younger crowd, and the Ranch is considering adding hot-air balloon rides in the future, she says.
Both Parker Ranch and Alii Kula Lavender have partnered with specialty vendors to develop their product lines. Big Island Candies has produced Alii Kula Lavender’s exclusive Lavender Chocolate Truffle and soon a Lavender Brownie, says Medina. Parker Ranch also sells private-label products, such as its exclusive coffee, produced by Kona’s Greenwell Farms.
It is important to first determine if your farm is suitable for ag-tourism, says Kafsack. That includes investing in restrooms, accessibility and other infrastructure changes, as well as liability insurance and employee training. “You must be willing to open your operations to the public,” he adds.
“Ag-tourism is a unique opportunity to enhance and diversify farm revenues,” says administrator Matthew Loke, of the state Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Development Division. “While some farmers have embraced the concept and engaged visitors fully on their own, others have chosen to partner with tourism professionals to deliver the farm experience. Every farmer has equal opportunity to make it work in his/her own special way.”