REDDING, Calif. — Rancher Bill Burrows’ farm was about to go broke in the 1980s, and he needed to do something to save it.
So after going to a couple of workshops and conferences on sustainability, he held a barbecue for friends and community members on his ranch in western Tehama County, Calif., and asked his guests for ideas.
The brainstorming session led Burrows to start a hunting club on his property that now generates 60 percent of his operation’s annual income.
“It’s amazing what people will pay for a good outdoor experience,” Burrows said, adding that he charges as much as $2,500 for a three-day blacktail deer hunt and $900 for a two-day wild bore hunt.
The ranch, which runs cattle, meat goats and sheep, has also hosted an annual “Stewardship Day” where local residents and agency officials learn about resource management.
Burrows was among several producers highlighting the opportunities to attract what he calls the “blacktop jungle people” — city dwellers who yearn for trips to the country — to farms during a class on agritourism Jan. 6 at the McConnell Foundation offices in Redding, Calif.
The class will have two more full-day sessions, Feb. 10 and March 16. Similar three-part classes hosted by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources are under way in Quincy and Modesto.
Penny Leff, who coordinates the UC’s small farms program, is in her fourth year of conducting the classes to generate interest among growers in diversifying their incomes through agritourism, which could range from community gatherings and u-pick operations to lodges for overnight stays.
Her classes include testimonials from farmers who have introduced agritourism components into their operations, how to assess a farm’s suitability for agritourism, how to manage cash flow and how to deal with local ordinances and obtain insurance.
Agritourism has been growing in popularity in the last decade, as the 2012 Census of Agriculture found the number of U.S. farms hosting some form of attraction for city dwellers rose by 42 percent from the 2007 census.
Leff said she conducts surveys of participants in her classes and has found that most stick with the agritourism programs they began after taking her class.
“It’s slow,” she said. “It takes years for people to develop these opportunities … But most of the people who took the class were moving forward in developing their programs.”
Among the producers sharing their experiences Jan. 6 was Becky Klinesteker, who worked with her sisters to open a roadside store and tasting room for her family’s Bianchi Orchards in Los Molinos three years ago. The walnut farm now has a vacation rental and hosts weddings.
“We’re not trying to go huge,” Klinesteker said. “We want to keep it small … But we do want to do more weddings.”
Burrows said the opportunities for growers to earn income through agritourism will only increase as consumers focus on buying local, natural foods and want to know where it comes from.
It’s “the best possible time for a revolution in agriculture” as people want locally grown, fresh food -- often referred to as “slow food,” Burrows told the gathering. “That food movement is here.”