Business owners share agritourism ideas

Anne BrockOur Town Outdoors

Should the family farm stay relevant raising food or feeding America’s appetite for tourism? Some East Tennessee success stories involve both approaches, and farm business owners shared their insights recently at the TEAM Conference coordinated by Knox County agriculture and business leaders.

TEAM stands for Teaming, Educate, Agriculture and Mastery. The Knox County office of University of Tennessee Extension coordinated the effort along with Tennessee State University the United States Department of Agriculture and several public entities as an alliance for this educational event.

Keynote speaker John Harrison encouraged aspiring business owners with his story of evolving Sweetwater Valley Farm from a family dairy business into a draw for tourists interested in tours and specialty cheeses. He encouraged the audience to “plan to win, be profitable, be sustainable, be flexible and have an exit strategy.” He waxed nostalgic about involving family members while also watching the bottom line. “My goal has always been to leave everything better than when I found it.”

Executive Director Tonya Keller brought more inspiration from the Tennessee Agritourism Association and her Keller’s Farm in Dickson, Tennessee. She led a class on agritourism, encouraging the networking that she says helped her family get started in this business. She shared behind-the-scenes planning ideas for a wide range of events hosted at the farm venue, including educational events. “We have the kids all dressed in costumes … and they sing, they have skits, they play games.”

Both Keller and Rachel Samulski of RiverView Family Farm in West Knox County noted that wedding venues remain top business opportunities, if managed meticulously. Samulski shared that visitors to special farm events rarely realize what it takes. “It’s a lot of work. People come and see the pretty flowers, but there’s a lot more to it.” She also shared about serving up ice cream and selling farm-raised food strategically.

Resources in Tennessee for family farmers interested in expanding with agritourism include the Center for Profitable Agriculture.

Anne Brock is marketing coordinator for Solar Alliance, which designs and manages solar installation projects for agritourism centers and other small businesses as well as for large manufacturers. Solar Alliance works with rural businesses applying for the 50% Rural Energy for America Program grant to support their cost-saving solar projects. She can be reached at or 865-221-8349.


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