Beyond the dude ranch
Ag producers know that they provide vital benefits beyond food. Yet many do not communicate their contributions to biodiversity, landscape preservation, rural employment, community stability and social values to the people who eat the food they provide.
European producers have been talking about the multiple functions of agriculture — and building clout with the public — since 1998. Now Montana producers can learn how to educate people without the need for a guest ranch or outfitting business. They, instead, can tap ag consultant Maarten Fischer’s knowledge and experience.
When Fischer lived in the Netherlands, he developed a national program, along with several farmer cooperatives, that integrated health care, child care and tourism with agriculture.
“At first, agricultural organizations and even the government saw farmers who used multifunctional agriculture as quitters and losers. But after a few years they embraced it as justifying agriculture in communities and for the economic benefit,” Fischer says.
Now, a quarter of farmers in the Netherlands invite visitors to their farms and generate $600 million in additional income each year.
So when Fischer and his wife brought their family to her home state of Montana, he was ready to share his successes with the producers there.
Fischer’s four-week class, “Multi-functional Farming: Creating New Markets for Your Business,” helps producers assess their goals and skills, write a business plan, analyze opportunities, and develop a marketing plan.
A few examples of those opportunities include a golf course using gopher holes, a regional-food dinner, a child care farm, a campground in an orchard, an educational retreat for families and integrated school programs.
Besides offering information, Fischer’s course provides inspiration, business development tools, coaching and ample opportunities to exchange ideas with other participants.
“We use interactive strategic management. We ask what capabilities does each person have and what opportunities does the environment offer,” Fischer says.
Vegetable farmer Pam Gerwe of Whitefish took Fischer’s class last winter to help her increase on-farm production and improve marketing for her Community Supported Agriculture shares.
Marion Foley manages her family’s homestead-turned-vacation-destination near Glacier National Park. She hosts many visitors from across the U.S., but used Fischer’s class to target the local market.
“So many professionals have moved here recently. They don’t read print media or listen to the radio,” Foley says.
With Fischer’s help, Foley discovered how local professionals acquire information. She plans to reach those potential customers by participating in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation annual dinner and advertising on Montana Public Radio.
“It’s all about seeing ourselves as others see us,” she says.
Schmidt writes from Conrad, Mont.
This article published in the January, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.