Recently Annie Baggett joined the Marketing Division team as Agritourism Marketing Specialist. She replaces Martha Glass who retired. The Agritourism Office has been a part of the NCDA&CS Marketing Division since 2003.
The goals of the office include assisting farms with marketing and promotion support and helping them develop and establish agritourism activities. Any type of farm experience can fall under the umbrella of agritourism, including pick-your-own fields, farm tours, winery tours, pumpkin patches, farm dinners and corn mazes.
Baggett brings an impressive and unique array of experiences to her new role, including experience in marketing and on-the-farm experience at her family’s business, Sunshine Lavender Farm in Hurdle Mills. “My husband and I started the farm in 2000. At first we wanted to have a community vegetable garden, but soon discovered that deer were our “community,” Baggett said. “The idea to grow lavender came from friends, and the fact that it is a deer-resistant plant.”
Baggett talked to extension agents and soon had about 1,000 lavender plants on her 11-acre property. At her first event at the Duke Hospital Farmers Market she sold every bouquet she had. “People always ask three questions when they see our lavender for sale: What is that, where is your farm and when can I come?”
Sunshine Farm is open three days a year, the first weekend of June for the Lavender Harvest Celebration and the second Saturday in December for the Lavender Holiday Celebration.
Her farm benefited from advice and the networking opportunities provided by the NCDA&CS Agritourism office. “I’ve always admired the office and the work it’s done,” Baggett said. “My background has always been in marketing, and owning a farm has also given me unique insight into the challenges and opportunities agitourism farms face every day.”
There are more than 670 farms in North Carolina engaged in agritourism. Some, like Baggett, open a few days a year, others for a six-week growing season, and a few offer experiences year round. Baggett’s goal is to elevate the awareness and allure of agritourism across the state. “Some of the immediate needs include encouraging the farms to update their General Store Website and put into place communication mechanisms such as a newsletter,” she said. “Studies show that most people have a computer and many research places they want to visit online. A Google search will often pull up a farm’s General Store page as a first option so it needs to be accurate.”
Baggett also wants to meet with the farms and help them look for cross-marketing opportunities in their communities. “We know that if you offer something to eat at your business people tend to stay longer, so why not partner with a local dairy and offer ice cream?” Baggett said. “Farmers might be able to use value-added farm activities to even out their revenue streams between harvests. This could include school group tours, homemade product sales or grounds rental.”
Baggett points out that farming is a vertically-integrated business. “Something is always happening on a farm,” Baggett said. “Farm equipment needs to be fixed, livestock needs to be cared for and products need to be sold. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about how to market your farm.”
“Farmers, including me, face challenges. My challenges include preserving my land for the future and getting my daughters interested in in our family farm. I had hopes that they would one day run the farm but both have chosen different fields.” Baggett sees these challenges as ones being faced by many farmers in the state and believes that agritourism can help. “When young people visit our farms and we educate them on the farm way of life, we connect their generation to farming,” she added.
Surveys have shown that the way to get people to the farm is to have a knowledgeable and friendly staff, offer activities for children and sell homemade products. Word-of-mouth is important too, almost 43 percent of a farm’s visitors are from recommendations from friends and family.
Baggett is excited to be on board to help support agritourism in the state. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.