Doing Agritourism Right

Michael Stebbins
October 2, 2019

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of representing GMO Answers at the National Association for State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was a great opportunity to learn about the different ag issues states across the country are facing. For example, big dairy states like Wisconsin, Vermont, and New York are having trouble with small dairies closing because they are not economically sustainable in this economy. States in the Midwest are facing potentially huge harvest issues due to the amount of rain earlier this year. And citrus-growing states like Florida and California are struggling to find answers to a disease crippling the citrus groves in those states.

One highlight of the meeting is the opportunity to visit and connect with local food and agriculture operations. This year, the choices were a hospitality training center, where students learn the culinary arts and highlight local cuisine, a unique sparkling wine-producing facility and vineyard with direct connections to the Champagne region in France, and a food distribution center showcasing local fruits and vegetable farms.

I chose to visit a renowned agritourism site. The Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm was a model experimental farm in the 1930s and 1940s. The Inn itself is one of the most magnificent historic properties in the Southwest. Given that it was an organic lavender farm, I was very interested in learning how they talked about their farming practices, and if they would address conventional farming and farmers growing GMO seeds.

GMO Answers believe that all types of agriculture (including conventional, organic, and biotech) have a place in modern agriculture, as this GMO Answers blog post explains in depth. We respect people around the world and their right to choose healthy food products that are best for themselves and their families. We support farmers as they work to grow crops using precious resources more efficiently, with less impact on the environment, and producing safe, nutritious food, feed, fuel, and fiber products. We want people to have accurate information about different types of seeds and food production methods.  It is only when armed with facts that people can make educated choices.

The tour was fantastic. Our guide at the Los Poblanos farm did everything right when talking about agriculture. Here are my top three takeaways from the tour:

  1. Let people know that everything that you do is based on a business decision.  The decision to have an organic operation vs. large scale conventional vs. smallholder vs. one with biotech crops ultimately comes down to what can viably work for your situation, your location, your land, your market, and your consumer demand. There's a lot of talk about sustainability these days, but the ultimate sign of being sustainable is being able to stay in business. All the best of intentions mean nothing if you go out of business. Los Poblanos did a great job framing everything within the scope of what works for them financially.

  2. Talk about what you do without bashing anyone else. So often, people resort to tearing down competitors to make themselves look good. What you say about your competition is a true reflection of you as a person. And even more powerful, it creates one of the key elements of the customer’s perception of you as a person. Part of their value judgment as they look to move forward – with or without you. If your product, in this case, a method of agriculture, is so good, it should stand on its own without tearing any other type of agriculture down. Los Poblanos never criticized any other business, any other type of farming, or any industry during the tour.  They only talked about what works for them, and how they defined success for themselves. Good job!

  3. Finally, acknowledge mistakes and failures. As in any field, you learn from mistakes.  Sharing what you've learned from things that didn't work out shows a maturity that is missing so much from modern life these days. Our tour leader at Los Poblanos talked about what worked for them, and also talked about what didn't work. He acknowledged that sometimes they have to try new things, and if not successful, they try it differently. That's something that pretty much any farmer can identify with: keep trying until you find a way that works.  The phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" may trace its origins back to Ancient Greece, but it certainly applies on the modern farm.

I'd like to thank for NASDA for arranging these opportunities to tour local food and ag enterprises and to Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm for allowing us to tour their facilities and doing it right when it comes to agritourism.  Agriculture is under enough pressure from outside forces without divisive elements from within the food and ag world.