At the first Oregon Agritourism Summit at Oregon State University on Nov. 30, agritourism business owners and policy regulators shared tips on how to start and successfully run on-farm tourism business, such as a corn maze or a farm stay. Speakers emphasized the need for collaboration between farmers and regulators.
Consult county planning department early
"We really appreciate people coming in getting to us early and being forthright about what they want to do," Mike McCallister, Clackamas County Planning Department manager, said. Obtaining a variety of permits and licenses can take years, he said, so he advised farmers to consult their county planning office before developing their tourism business.
Some farmers hire a land-use consultant to attend meetings with them and offer advice throughout the process. McCallister reminded farmers that all counties have different regulations, and even different zones within the same county have varying laws.
Summit organizer Mary Stewart emphasized a collaboration between farmers and regulators. "See the planning department as business development partners, not adversaries," she said.
Draft a business plan
Chris Bentley, a senior planner at the Benton County Planning Department, advised farmers to consider what their business offers, who the customers are and what resources they need to make their dream a reality.
"If you don't know where you're going, chances are you're not going to get there," Bentley said. Other speakers recommended networking with fellow agritourism business owners to learn about daily operations and pricing.
Work with neighbors
Because many county regulatory laws revolve around agritourism's impact on neighboring farms and homes, speakers advised farmers to work with their neighbors throughout the process.
"We don't want Disneyland to land on our farms, but we do want to allow farmers to have the most economical use of their property," Mary Stern, Yamhill County commissioner, said.
Keep a website, with pictures
Business owners told farmers that their website is one of their most important marketing tools. Scottie Jones of Leaping Lamb Farm Stay in Alsea, Ore., advised farmers to use resources such as Farm Stay U.S., a website where farmers can promote their farm stay and customers can find locations across the country.
Barb Iverson of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Ore., encouraged business owners to post a variety of photos on their website to catch a customer's eye.
Pay attention to changing laws
Because laws are constantly changing, McCallister said business owners should stay up-to-date with regulations by contacting their county.
"Land use laws can be very dynamic -- make a point of once a year checking with your planning department," McCallister said.