Tour de Farm Excursions Are a Tour de Force
Annual farm tour events are a growing trend for direct-to-consumer producers.
By Deborah Huso | Photos By Sam Morrison
Vernon Valley Farm faces a challenge that’s similar for many small farms—a need for exposure to the buying public. “The farm has been in the family a long time,” says Vernon Valley co-owner and farm manager Kirk Stephens about the operation his grandfather started. “But it’s not well-known in the community as a place you can go to buy food.”
Vernon Valley Farm has participated the past two years, hosting 60 people for a farm dinner last September that included live music, hay rides, and, of course, meat sales and CSA sign-ups.
As a result of the Tour de Farm, Stephens says Vernon Valley has increased its Facebook followers and has grown its email marketing list. “Even if we only get five new customers from the event, that makes a big impact,” he points out, given that the farm’s lowest cost annual CSA sale is $600 and a finished hog sells for $400.
The Tour de Farm concept is by no means unique to New Jersey. Similar events, whether they involve bicycle or automobile tours, can be found around the country, particularly in farming communities that are heavily dependent on direct sales and close to large metro areas. Slow Food First Coast, for example, held its fourth annual automobile-based Tour de Farm in northeast Florida in November, while the cycling-focused Tour de Farms centered around Buffalo, N.Y., is going on its eighth year. And plenty of farmers have seen the advantage of teaming up with fundraising campaigns for charities to support agricultural education for consumers. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual Tour de Farms, held in Illinois, is one of the most well-known such events and has been running 34 years.
For Anne Ventimiglia, a partner in Ventimiglia Vineyard, which produces 1,200 cases of wine annually and participates in the Tour de Farm New Jersey, the event has enabled the former suburbanite the opportunity to share agriculture with city folks. “As ‘suburbanites’ turned ‘farm folk,’ we know firsthand how thrilling and relaxing it can be to get to the country and enjoy the scenery and activities of farms.”