North Bay agritourism gains ground

Agriculture


In the wintertime, the ranch opens its orchid greenhouse for events to small groups between 10- to 20 guests.

This summer, Morelli said he’s noticed an influx of guests taking in the surroundings and atmosphere on the ranch.

“It seems like there are all sorts of people coming and going here,” the ranch manager said, adding he’s surprised by the farm’s renewed popularity since the post-pandemic recovery. “When people leave and go home, I think they get a charge out of making their lives better. They’re rejuvenated and inspired to eat better. I think that will make this business bigger.”

Brahm and Poorvi Kohlisomethentert brought their dog and child to the ranch’s tasting patio for a day of relaxation on a recent Saturday trip to Bodega Bay from Burlingame.

“She loves nature, and we feel like with wine tasting, (most places) only do wine and it’s not a place for families. I think they’re very accommodating here,” she said.

Family themes on the farm

At Connolly Ranch and Educational Center, co-Executive Director Heidi Soldinger, knows all about operating a haven for families wanting to get away to life on the farm.

Visitors learn farming operations, including sheering sheep.

“We’re seeing such an influx of multiple generations of people coming to the farm. There’s definitely more of an interest in the farm. To families with children, it becomes a holistic experience. I think people are looking to engage in meaningful ways to the farm,” Soldinger said.

With a nod to the Connolly Ranch, Napa County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas is convinced the growth of agri-tourism benefits more than the visitors in expanding their ag knowledge.

“Because of the fires and COVID, everyone (running a farm) is looking to expand the viability of their place. Certainly, this is one option that teaches people about agriculture,” Klobas said, referring to the value of consumers learning where their food comes from.

Still, the business model may not work for all Wine Country farms and ranches. Farmers wanting to explore the extracurricular offerings may need to consider whether their locations will accommodate more traffic.

Then, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tawny Tesconi warned agri-tourism services are not endorsed by her organization if it comes at the expense of taking land out of food production.

“We’re against taking out land (used) for agricultural production. But we realize that more consumers want to be educated, and the neighbors must be aligned with (the programs),” she said.

Still, Tesconi sees the far-reaching benefits of expanding farmers’ options to pull in more income and share what matters to them.

“Our farmers love to tell their story,” she said.

To UC Davis agritourism coordinator Rachael Callahan, this method of doing business on the farm may mean anything from a farm stand to a festival.

“We see it as a valuable piece to the puzzle. It is a way for farms and ranches to diversify their income, to have additional ways of earning money if their main crop fails, the restaurant they sell to goes out of business or any number of things go wrong,” she said.

Beefing up its business offerings

Loren and Lisa Poncia take the agritourism part of their business seriously, as a way to sustain the cattle ranch in Tomales and get the message out about how local food is sourced.

“Our agri-business is a 100% link to our core ranch business,” she said.

The couple uses farm-to-table dinners, tours, overnight cabin rentals as well as wedding and fundraiser space to support its 1,000-acre, grass-fed cattle ranch in Marin County. The couple’s open house barbecue is set for Aug. 28.

“It’s a way to bring people to the ranch and bring them closer to their food source and learn about it. Before COVID, we had dozens of tours every year,” Lisa said. “We love it. It’s a true full-circle moment for us and the guests when people come to the ranch and like what they’re seeing.”

To many who hail from the city, the experience seems foreign.

“There are people who had no idea food was produced 40 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge,” she said. “It’s been a huge part of our lives for 15 years.”

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@busjrnl.com



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