A significant number of baby boomers and retired folk from the southern Great Plains were raised on a farm or ranch or spent a significant amount of time in the country during their childhood years. Many of these people, who have long since left the farm to seek fame and fortune in the city, long to reconnect with their pasts and share those experiences with their children and grandchildren. How do people in this predicament share their passion for country living with their city-slicker friends and relatives?
Welcome to the world of agri-tourism, where agriculture and tourism meet. Agri-tourism offers tremendous profit potential for Oklahoma farm and ranch families by providing an opportunity for "old aggies" to reconnect with their past and city dwellers to experience, maybe for the first time, life in the country.
Prospective agri-tourism entrepreneurs need to observe three basic rules in order to be successful: have something for visitors to see, something for them to do and something for them to buy.
Things to see include livestock breeds, heirloom crop varieties, native plants, antique farm machinery, sheep shearing, wool processing, cider pressing or wine making.
Things to do include classes in cooking, flower arranging, herbal medicine, candle making and pick-your-own fruit and vegetables. Popular children's activities include petting zoos, hay bale and corn mazes, horseback riding and hayrides.
Things to buy include farm-raised fruit and vegetables, meats, cheeses, breads, pastries, wine, apple cider and homemade ice cream. Non-food items include such things as woodcarvings, basketry, pottery, quilts, fresh and dried flowers, pumpkins, corn shocks and decorative gourds.
Last, but not least, don't forget about opportunities to lease your property for hunting, fishing or hiking.
Oklahoma has a rich agricultural history and a diverse agriculture economy ideal for developing a prosperous agri-tourism industry. The Oklahoma departments of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Tourism and Wildlife Conservation think so highly of the potential of agri-tourism that they have joined forces to develop a new comprehensive agri-tourism program for Oklahoma.
In order to assist with marketing and promotion of agri-tourism, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry is asking all agri-tourism businesses to complete a questionnaire. A downloadable copy of the questionnaire is available on the Web at oda.state.ok.us, or you can contact Francie Tolle, Director of Agri-tourism at (405) 522-5652.
Agri-tourism ventures are not for everyone. An abundance of time, energy and enthusiasm, coupled with a passion for sharing the joy of country living with both young and old, are prerequisites for success.
For more information on agri-tourism opportunities, go to the ATTRA website at attra.ncat.org and refer to the publication entitled "Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism," or request a hard copy of the publication by calling (800) 346-9140.