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NCCE Agritourism Curriculum

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Small farms face many challenges for long-term survival, but in some regions of the nation, the local food movement is transforming the agricultural and food services sectors, and agritourism and farm visits are improving small farm viability by providing supplemental income. This is particularly true in North Carolina, as interest in local food consumption has increased over the past decade.

This widespread public interest in local foods is undeniable, but far fewer people visit farms for leisure or purchase local food while vacationing (with the exception of vineyards). NC State Extension – Tourism’s work with small farms across the state reveals that many small farmers report high interest in receiving visitors as a strategy to earn additional income, selling farm products to the visitors, enhancing customer relationships, and even involving guests in some helpful farm work. In addition, many small farmers want to increase their direct to consumer sales, whether to members of neighboring communities or to tourists visiting the area.

In an effort to address the increased interest in agritourism expressed by farmers in the state, Extension’s Local Food Program Team, through its Economic Impacts Work Group, developed an agritourism training in 2018 based in the recent work of many North Carolina Tourism and Extension specialists. We believe that by formatting the training as a series of short, interactive exercises, we will reach and retain a greater number of farmer participants interested in expanding their operations to include an agritourism activity.

Module 1 of the training introduces agritourism to trainees and explores its many manifestations.

Module 2 asks participants to look inward to determine whether they have the personality and the facilities needed to run a successful agritourism operation.

Module 3 begins the work of planning for an agritourism enterprise through the development of a business concept, elevator pitch, and mission statement. It also directs trainees to identify their customer segments and research the competition.

Module 4 continues the planning by examining pricing structures and introducing the types of financial projections the successful agripreneur will have before launching the agritourism enterprise. Trainees will be encouraged to visit with the small business center at their local community college for a professional review of their projections.

Module 5 expands the support network for the aspiring agritourism entrepreneur and introduces trainees to grant and other funding sources to finance the development of their agritourism enterprise.

Module 6 examines various marketing channels for the agritourism entrepreneur and encourages trainees to seek feedback from customers.

Module 7 provides a brief overview of legal and risk considerations for the agritourism enterprise.

Module 8 wraps up all of the previous training and provides trainees with a step by step guide to completing a business plan.

How the agent delivers these 8 modules will vary by agent. They may be delivered as stand-alone modules, but we strongly suggest that they be delivered as a series of breakfast or lunch meetings, lasting no more than an hour each, and that they be scheduled at least every other week so that they can be concluded within a 4 month period. Each module builds on the knowledge gained in the last module.

In 2020, the Economic Impacts Work Group conducted an evaluation of the Agritourism Curriculum. Based on the feedback gathered from agents across the state, we are suggesting that agents consider combining Modules 1 and 2  into a single session, that a small business consultant be recruited to help deliver content in Modules 4 and 8, and that an attorney and/or tax specialist be recruited to assist in the explanation of content in Module 7. We have also created a guide on how to co-host an Agritourism Training with your local community college/small business development center.

A special folder labeled Agent Resources exists for each module. In that folder, there is an instructor video from 2018, as well more recent videos from the 4-workshop series held for agents from the far Western counties in August 2020. All of the modules were reviewed in 2020 for accuracy and relevancy, and Module 7 has a new presentation and video specifically addressing some of the more complex legal issues facing agritourism operators today.

In addition to the interactive exercises that should be completed during the meeting time, trainees will be asked to do a small amount of homework in preparation for the next meeting. Class exercises and homework are clearly identified and housed in the folders listed for each Module.

While the short-term goal of the training is for trainees to complete the training with at least the framework for an agritourism business plan, the long-term goal is for trainees to launch their agritourism enterprises. Experts may disagree on the nexus between a written business plan and a successful agritourism enterprise. However, all agree that the time devoted by the aspiring agritourism entrepreneur in researching the competitive landscape and refining marketing methodologies is time well spent.

Agents may access N.C. Cooperative Extension Agritourism Curriculum online.