How to Branch Out Successfully – One Farm’s Venture to Gain Agritourism GroundOctober 8, 2019 1:12 pm
(as seen in the Fall 2019 edition of Orchard and Vine Magazine)
Following in the footsteps of successful wineries in both Europe and California, Okanagan wine growers have long taken advantage of a proven diversity model to enrich their yearly bottom lines as well as their land and “going-concern” or business values. Today, visitors to several of our local wineries can expect amenities such as restaurants, luxury suites and spas to enhance and lengthen the guest experience. Mission Hill Family Estate, for example, offers stunning architecture, wine cellar tours, culinary workshops and outdoor amphitheater concerts while a trip to Nk’Mip Cellars can include the full resort experience including luxury condo stays with swimming pools and golf. Even smaller wineries such as The Vibrant Vine have successfully taken a page from this book to strengthen their business model with live music and outdoor theatre.
Wineries first started branching out by offering an on-site culinary experience. For some, these restaurants quickly grew to offer world-class dining featuring renowned chefs to compliment in-house wine pairings. One wonders, if wineries are finding increased success through the serving of food, why aren’t the food producers themselves following suit? Wouldn’t visitors to a picturesque organic farm, for example, almost expect an opportunity to sit down and enjoy a freshly prepared, farm-to-table meal?
Unfortunately for farmers and orchardists, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) conditions for opening a restaurant are quite obstructive. The practice of preparing and selling one’s produce in an eatery, even if situated on the farm where that food is grown and harvested, is deemed non-farm use by the ALC. Fruit and vegetable growers can only entertain diversification through food service if their farm produces an alcoholic beverage. Therefore, only orchardists or farmers willing to also grow, produce and sell wine, beer, cider or mead can open an on-site restaurant. With this requirement, it’s easy to see how the price of diversification can be prohibitive from the onset. Yet, more and more brave farmers are taking the leap in hopes of offsetting these up-front costs over time. Its no wonder boutique wineries, cider houses and meaderies are sprouting throughout the Okanagan.
Klippers Organics, for example, began as a small Certified Organic farm created by co-founders Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein in 2001. Both Kevin and Annamarie came from a lifetime of experience in the production and preparation of organic foods. As their successful farm business grew, the Klippensteins reinvested into their business by expanding land holdings from 5 acres to 40 acres. A larger farm brought more opportunity to foster agritourism. With increased crop size and produce sales, Kevin and Annamarie began financing the construction of amenities and services to enhance their guest experience. In February 2018, a new building was designed specifically to accommodate a farm cidery. Klippers’ Untangled Craft Cider now offers a selection of varietal ciders made from the organic apples grown on the farm.
With the cidery in the works, Kevin and Annamarie were now in ALC compliance and eager to get started with the preparation and serving of the foods they were growing. Row 14 of the orchard was removed to make room for a farm eatery, aptly named Row 14 at Klippers. As of August 2019, the restaurant is open offering meals to foodies looking to experience organic farm-to-fork cuisine in its purest form.
In addition to the new restaurant and cidery, Klippers Organics also offers four fully equipped, well-appointed guest suites to an increasing number of farm-stay visitors looking for the complete agri-experience. With substantial land holdings, improvements and assets, the farm now benefits from a variety of amenities, increased visits and diverse and sustainable income streams.
Is it worth it? That is the million-dollar question, sometimes quite literally. Some of the larger, established wineries have spent at least that much on their restaurants and accommodations. But success isn’t based solely on investment; the performance of a farm’s tourism venture depends on a variety of factors such as location, food quality, financial management and social media reviews, to name a few.
In a world where food production is increasingly mechanized, many consumers are growing skeptical and seeking out healthy alternatives. Agritourism is on the rise. The trend suggests that farmers can only benefit from supplementing their agricultural incomes by opening their gates to a public hungry not only to understand how foods are naturally cultivated, but to savour the difference.
Written by NCA Commercial’s Brian Pauluzzi, AACI