California farms embracing tourism

September 6, 2010 9:55:16 PM PDT
This is a tough time to be farmer. Prices are falling and worry about food safety is rising. So a growing number of small California farmers are turning to tourists to boost profits and educate customers.

Jana McClelland started giving tours of her Petaluma dairy farm last spring.

"I'm a third generation dairy farmer and it's a family owned business," McClellan

Torrey Olson teaches customers to pick their own apples at Gabriel Farm near Sebastopol.

A few miles away at Full House Farm visitors can actually stay overnight. They get a nice place to get away from it all and a close-up look at farm life.

One recent group came for a bachelorette party.

"Quite different from Vegas, the opposite of Vegas actually," Valerie Sobel said.

Instead of drinking and gambling they got to pet goats and they even checked out a real life hen house.

"My favorite was holding the freshly laid egg, warm in my hand," one woman said.

All of the farms are in Sonoma County, a leader in California's growing agritourism business -- working farms and ranches that welcome visitors.

"People come from all over the world, although there are many people who just come from San Francisco or Sacramento; it's a short drive to us, it's an easy weekend," Christine Cole of Full House Farm said.

Agritourism actually started with wine tasting. Now, the University of California Small Farm Program says the idea is catching on with all kinds of agriculture. It is good for farmers, visitors and the local economy.

"More agritourism businesses increase tourism to the county overall," UC Small Farm Program spokesperson Penny Leff said. "If there are more things for people to do when they are visiting the community, they are more likely to stay overnight. And they are more likely to eat at restaurants in town. Generally there's a great spill over from agritourism businesses to community development."

The Small Farm Program has a book with advice for farmers on how to get started. There is a website to help tourists find farms and an outreach campaign with slogans like, "You've seen Disneyland, now visit the other California."

"This is a wonderful way of bringing agriculture to people, to have them come to us rather than for us to pack up the truck and go to the farmers market," Olson said.

One family from Oakland recently had a great time picking blackberries and apples.

"It's important for children to know where their food comes from, that it actually grows on trees, it doesn't come from the grocery store," Jeanne Swartz said.

At McClelland's dairy visitors get to try milking a cow themselves the old fashioned way. Then they see how cows are really milked these days.

The McClellands say all farmers are suffering from negative publicity about large scale factory farms. But theirs is a small family operation with an emphasis on organic, grass fed cows and lots of hands on interaction. They hope tours will improve their image.

"We need to tell our side of the story, to tell what we are doing, that we are taking care of our animals and that we really like them," McClelland said.

And of course the tours also help sell products. The dairy includes a tasting of their European-style organic butter. They have also got sweatshirts, t-shirts and shopping bags for sale.

Gabriel Farm has a more traditional shop and you can eat your freshly picked blackberries over organic yogurt.

Full House Farm offers ice cream made from goat milk.

Some visitors drive from farm to farm. Others just pick one and spend some time. Either way a UC survey showed almost 2.5 million people a year are making these kinds of visits to California farms.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

Gabriel Farm, Pick your own apples.
Sebastopol
http://gabrielfarm.com/

Full House Farm, Overnight stays at sustainable farm.
Sebastopol
http://www.fhfarm.com/

McClellands Dairy, Guided tours
Petaluma
http://www.mcclellandsdairy.com/

General Information for visiting farms:

Find a farm or ranch to visit - statewide
http://calagtour.org/AgTour.ASP

Find a farm to visit in Sonoma County and information about "Weekend Along the Farm Trails" Sept. 25 and 26
http://www.farmtrails.org/

Information for Farmers interested in Agritourism
http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/agritourism/


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