Experiential travel taking off

Saskatoon family works hard to ensure agritourism festival experience is fun for families

Festivals, U-pick farms and on-farm distilleries are all part of a growing sector of tourism called experiential travel.

To be successful, farm entrepreneurs involved in agritourism have to ensure that they provide an enjoyable experience that keeps their guests happy. This takes a lot of planning and lots of helpers.

“Agritourism is travel that is associated with agriculture. It could mean going to a farmers market, to a U-pick fruit operation … it could mean going to an experiential kind of event on a farm,” said Susan Nicoll, a manager with Manitoba Agriculture.

Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote and her husband, John Cote, are selling experiences as well as products at their farm, Tiera Del Sol.

The former grain producers sold the family farm five years ago and bought 80 acres close to Saskatoon. They were looking for new experiences and challenges but still remain in agriculture.

The family now grows and sells flowers, produces floral arrangements and has a U-pick.

Tierra Del Sol started selling its flowers at a farmers market in Saskatoon, which got the word out about their business.

They also host on-farm festivals to draw attention to their business.

This summer they hosted their second lily festival, attracting 500 visitors. Their third annual pumpkin festival this fall attracted 5,000 people.

The pumpkin festival includes activities such as pumpkin rolling, cucumber tee ball and horse drawn wagon rides and features a pumpkin-ingredient filled menu.

“It’s like any start-up venture that you’ve got years and years of development and now we’re into that area that it’s growing,” Cote said.

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The Cotes rely on their staff of four to six seasonal employees, their four children and 20 to 30 volunteers to run the festivals. They hope the pumpkin festival will grow and become more profitable, and at that point they’d like to have full-time staff.

“We’ve got some chefs, we utilize their skills but we also have a lot of volunteers that spend time in the kitchen and helping us out. We’re very grateful for them,” Stefanyshyn-Cote said.

Planning the pumpkin festival is a year long endeavour. The Cotes gather their staff following the festival in November and go over what worked and didn’t work. They then decide on what they need to change.

“The work involved is obviously prepping the location, cleaning it up, making sure everything’s in place, bringing in washrooms, making sure that there is sufficient food for everyone,” Stefanyshyn-Cote said.

“Making sure the setup is good so that the people flow in a good direction, that there’s no congestion. Those are some of the things that you really have to pay attention to.”

The Cotes use Facebook and their website to get the word out about Tierra Del Sol and regularly update both.

They use the coming event sections in newspapers and buy a few advertisements to promote the festivals and send out a news release to local media outlets beforehand to encourage publicity.

Pumpkin festival attendees are charged $10 per vehicle, which covers the cost of the activities and helps the Cotes make a profit. Revenue also comes from tickets for the activities and food sales.

Liability insurance is an important part of hosting these festivals.

“Insurance is a must and we check with them whenever we’re adding new events and they do their checking,” Stefanyshyn-Cote said.

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“So that’s a very important part of operating festivals and having people out.”

The couple believes diversity is the key to success in the agritourism industry and recently opened the BlackFox Spirits distillery on their farm.

“Every good business has multiple streams of income, that you’re not only relying on one thing,” Stefanyshyn -Cote said.

“Like if we have a wreck with the flowers, the pumpkins will come on, the distillery will still be here.”

The Cotes hope to host more festivals and have recently began hosting weddings.

They also see room for growth in the agritourism industry in Saskatchewan.

“There’s room for a lot more in the province, I think people are really hungry to go out and experience a farm,” Cote said.

Jonathan Potts, executive director of marketing and communications at Tourism Saskatchewan, has seen a lot of growth in the industry in Saskatchewan over the last 20 years.

“We’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs start up new businesses, whether it’s orchards or wineries or distilleries that are using Saskatchewan products … so it’s really an evolving industry,” he said.

Contact ashley.robinson@producer.com

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