Agritourism Connects People to the Farm
- Agritourism destinations help bridge the understanding gap between people and food production.
- Chelan Valley Farms offers opportunities for the public to learn about ag.
- Growers interested in agritourism should consider whether it would be a hobby or primary income source.
With less than 2% of the U.S. population involved in farming and ranching, many people are largely unaware of their food’s backstory. Chad and Jeana Steiner noticed that gap and wanted to make a difference, so they decided to launch their own agritourism destination in Washington.
“You can go to the grocery store and get any type of produce without really understanding what it took to produce it,” says Jeana Steiner.
When the Steiners purchased an empty lot a couple hours east of Seattle in Chelan, they saw an opportunity to realize their dream of providing agricultural education. Eight years later, the land hosts a flourishing farm where visitors learn how food goes from farm to fork and wine flows from grape to glass.
The Seed of an Idea
Love for agriculture is central to the Steiners’ relationship; They met in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. Between undergraduate and graduate school, Chad worked for Ste. Michelle winery. “That’s what planted the seed to start a vineyard for him,” says Jeana Steiner. “And I just love being outside.” Additionally, Chad grew his agricultural knowledge during a 12-year tenure with Syngenta.
In 2014, the Steiners, who were living in Sacramento, California, bought property in order to open their own vineyard.
“With Chad traveling for Syngenta, touring apple orchards and seeing every farm culture on a mass and small scale, we began to understand how disconnected people are from farming,” Jeana Steiner says. With that in mind, the Steiners looked beyond a traditional vineyard toward creating a space where people can reconnect to farming.
There have been days where we wonder how we are going to do this. It’s just Chad and me. We don’t have outside investors. We hope to carry this forward and make a difference in people’s lives.
The Steiners’ three young boys inspired the farm’s next expansion. After relocating to Chelan, the couple looked for family fun as Halloween approached. When they discovered the nearest pumpkin patch was over an hour away, they saw an opportunity.
“I talked to the local principal, Erin Moran, and did an experiment with the fourth graders,” Jeana Steiner says. “They helped us plant the pumpkin seeds, and the following fall, they all came back to pick out a pumpkin.”
The pumpkin patch is now in its fourth year and the Steiners added U-Pick apples and U-Pick flowers to the farm activities. “There was a grandma with her family last season who was so excited to pick an apple for her first time. It was amazing to see a memory they will be able to share forever,” Jeana Steiner says.
As business on the farm increased, visitors expressed an interest in learning what happens behind the scenes. With a focus on education, the Steiners began free public farm tours. The tours normally include about 30 people.
“We tailor the tour to what’s going on with the farm at the time,” Chad Steiner says. “I like to wrap these discussions into the big picture of why growers do certain things, such as apple thinning.” Apple thinning, he explains, helps produce a certain size of apple.
Through Airbnb and VBRO®, the Steiners made their guest house available to visitors who want to experience staying on a working farm. Tourists from California to England have visited the property. “I was honestly blown away with the interest of people that wanted to come and stay,” Jeana Steiner says.
The couple fulfilled their other agricultural dream by opening Lagriōth Winery on-site, which is named after the words lake, agritourism and growth. “Chad is really well-versed in wine making,” says Connor Flanagan, a visitor at Chelan Valley Farms. “The knowledge he brings to the table is invaluable, and it’s super interesting to hear the story behind the grapes.”
For growers interested in agritourism, the Steiners say a crucial first step is deciding whether it will be a hobby or a main income source. Chad Steiner says important considerations include input costs, time involved, and which crops and agritourism operations can drive revenue.
Chad Steiner says growing the customer base through promotional efforts is key to the farm’s success. Social media, local media, and Chamber of Commerce weekly bulletins are important marketing tools for the Steiners.
Jeana Steiner adds that having an experienced mentor was helpful. Niki Allision, a local farmer who sells flowers, helped mentor the Steiners when they were getting started. The Steiners now mentor others. "I had someone call a few days ago who has property, and he just doesn’t know how to get started,” says Jeana Steiner. “He asked if he could come on the farm tour and see behind the scenes with our animals.”
Like all growers, the Steiners experience times of hardship. “There have been days where we wonder how we are going to do this,” says Jeana Steiner. “It’s just Chad and me. We don’t have outside investors. We hope to carry this forward and make a difference in people’s lives.”
To learn more about Chelan Valley Farms please visit: Chelan Valley Farms
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