Regenerative Farming (and Business) By Stealth - Hosting AirBnB Experience Farm Tours
(we’ve started up the VLOG again, you can see a bit of a (Satur)day in the life all about our Airbnb Experiences here)
It’s a thing we say a lot about what we do - that we are teaching people about “regenerative farming by stealth”. Folks think that they are coming on a farm tour, a breadmaking workshop, a yarn retreat, but really we are talking about the things that get us up in the morning (no, not coffee) - how we can radically improve the environment by changing how we grow the food that we rely on.
I think that our AirBnB experiences are really the perfect example of that. We’ve been hosting the farm tours for just over a year, starting after hosting AirBnB in the house just, um, didn’t fit our life style.
And to be honest, making beds is exactly zero fun. I felt like I was always cleaning and cooking and worrying about being judged and there are definitely easier ways to pay the bills…
We took the bits we liked about the AirBnB overnights - the baking, showing people the animals, meeting people from all over the world - and put them into an experience where folks could come just for that.
Our farm tours happen every Saturday throughout winter and every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer. Folks come, have a cuppa and some sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls, hear about the history of the farm and get to get hands on with the animals. Kevin jokes that people pay to do his chores for him - and there is some truth to that. We aren’t a petting zoo and feel strongly that the best way to really experience what life here is like is to go beyond the gate and get in amongst the animals (I have really good public liability insurance, by the way). From milking, to moving the sheep, helping feed the bees, giving duck baths, collecting eggs, we help visitors get “all in” to the experience.
When we first set up the tours, we thought that it would be families attending them. Our whole structure was geared towards that, from the pacing of the tours to the ticketing. Within a month or two we realised that while families are some of our customers, actually young couples are the mainstays of the farm visits. Also, initially we hosted mostly international guests, travelling through Scotland for a week or two and wanting a taste of rural Scottish life, but now most of our visitors are from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Its been an interesting thing to see and certainly echoing many other trends around young people looking to connect to a more sustainable way of living.
The biggest surprise from hosting the tours is how dramatically it has changed our business. The income from AirBnB experiences covers our feed costs, as well as necessary costs for maintaining the farm. Even in the quietest months (hello, January) it means that at the very least everyone will be fed. And as we are teaching folks about sustainable farming, they in turn are making the business more sustainable - the folks that come on tours frequently will buy a pot of jam, a loaf of bread or some of our meat. They will come back again and again - either on a tour or another event. We have volunteers that have come via the experiences and most of our gift vouchers this Christmas were bought by customers who had been on a visit.
That isn’t to say the tours aren’t without their stresses. Initially, we were offering the tours every day of the week, running them whenever people booked, no matter how small the group. This was whittled down to just weekends as not only were we running tours for 1 person. On the other side of it, we have had to limit group sizes after a couple of unwieldily large groups meant that we felt no one got the best experience they could.
It does mean Saturdays are busy here. We are up early baking and cleaning and sorting animals to where they need to be. Our kids have to just get on with things. Ellis helps most weekends, but the little two just watch cartoons (hello, guilt). We can’t really do social things on Saturdays and have had to drop any Saturday classes as it was just too complicated to get kids where they need to go.
That said, I would recommend it in a heartbeat to any small farms looking to diversify. Its been amazing for us, and the people we’ve met have become friends for life.