Farm owners are creating new income by luring tourists willing to pay to spend the morning learning to milk a cow or the afternoon picking strawberries.

In many places in the world, small family farms are embracing “agritourism,” using a mix of specialty crops, livestock and basic marketing skills. By doing so, some have moved from simply providing food for their families to running profitable commercial enterprises.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, according to the World Bank. But it wasn’t always this way, and as increasing numbers find jobs in the city, people feel nostalgia for their rural roots. Some just want to enjoy the great outdoors. Whatever the reason, farms located within striking distance of population centers are reaping benefits.

If you can market what you grow to your neighbors and make a living doing it, you can enrich your lives and those of your neighbors.— John Govin

In the U.S., small farmers have adopted agritourism to remain viable in an era of large corporate farms. In less developed countries, farmers are trying it as a way to move beyond subsistence farming.

Recently, a group of Mandela Washington Fellows — young African leaders who were studying in the U.S. for six weeks — visited an agritourism farm called Govin’s Meats and Berries, in Menomonie, Wisconsin. ShareAmerica captured some of the questions they posed to owners John Govin, who grew up on a dairy farm, and his wife, Julie, who grew up in a suburb but brings marketing savvy from her studies at the University of Wisconsin–Stout to the operation.

Young leaders from several African countries take a break with agritourism expert John Govin, center, rear. (Courtesy of Govin’s Meats and Berries)

Q: How did you pay for your farm?

A: The seller gave us good terms, and our bank backed us up. We’ve borrowed along the way. We have always been able to pay back our loans. Our farm is 26 hectares — the right size for the two of us to handle.

Q: How does your farm make money?

A: [We raise] cattle and sheep, which we sell for meat, and chickens, for meat and eggs. We have 2.5 hectares of strawberries. We do direct sales to customers and earn money through agritourism. People like to know how their food is raised and will pay to see where it comes from.

City people like to see animal births. In the spring, we invite people to visit our lambing barn. We charge a fee. We have goats, ponies and even alpacas … from South America. Children like to pet them. We have educational signs throughout the barn that teach people about the animals. People pay to pick their own baskets of strawberries. Or they can buy already-picked fresh berries. The arrival of the strawberry crop is a big attraction.

In fall, we cut a decorative pattern in a maize field for people to walk through (comparable to a path through a garden maze of hedges). We decorate a barn to rent out for weddings.

Q: Where do you market your farm?

A: We are in a good location near a major highway. We have a large sign next to the highway directing drivers to the farm. We sell our meats at an open-air market in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 35 kilometers away. More than 100,000 people live within 129 kilometers of our farm.

We use print flyers and social media to advertise. Word-of-mouth is another big promoter.