Exploding interest in on-farm dining inspires new Wisconsin resource supporting start-ups

Exploding interest in on-farm dining inspires new Wisconsin resource supporting start-ups

As interest in knowing where your food comes from continues to boom, local food fans are increasingly flocking to on-farm dining experiences, from multi-course farm-to-table meals to family-friendly pizza nights. This movement opens up opportunities for farmers to launch dining experiences on their family farms and diversify income streams.

A new free publication, "Come & Get It: What you need to know to serve food on your farm," supports farmers as they research the possibility of on-farm food service start-ups.

This publication guides farmers interested in understanding regulations and learning from businesses that are profiting from the growing trend of on-farm food service. Come & Get It is spearheaded by the Minnesota-based non-profit, Renewing the Countryside, an award-winning non-profit championing educational resources for farmers and rural entrepreneurs. The project supports farmers in Wisconsin along with Minnesota interested in exploring on-farm food service with resources including assessments, case studies, and research data to develop their own business plan.

“The reality is that state regulations regarding food service, particularly when you take something to a farm setting, can get complicated and confusing quickly,” shares Jane Jewett, Associate Director of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), one of the partners in this project. “Before investing a dime, thoroughly research and understand your options, learn from farms successfully running these kinds of businesses, and then determine what may be best for your farm business. The Come & Get It program supports this type of thoughtful, business-minded approach.”

The 120-page Come & Get It publication offers an industry overview including how to determine if an on-farm food service business is right for farmers. Case studies of nine successful farm businesses in Minnesota and Wisconsin offer “behind the scenes” tips and first-hand experiences from farmers already running successful pizza nights and other on-farm food service events.

Additionally, the Come & Get It publication contains marketing insights collected and summarized through research conducted in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Stout. For the first time ever, on-farm food service attendees were interviewed in order to gain an understanding of who is coming to these events and what the potential is for future similar businesses.

“Results from this research found that 100% of customers interviewed enjoyed their overall experience, particularly the delicious food, the organic and fresh ingredients, and the family-friendly atmosphere,” summarizes Jan Joannides, Executive Director at Renewing the Countryside. “This data indicates opportunities for more on-farm food business start-ups.”

“We learned so much in our start-up process and love sharing our story and experiences with other farmers. Having more options for the public to visit and experience where your food comes from helps our whole local food movement grow,” shares Mary Ann Bellazzini of Campo di Bella in Mt Horeb, where she and her husband, Marc Bellazzini, opened a winery and restaurant on their farm in 2015 that specializes in seasonal, farm-to-table fare. “It can often be overwhelming and intimidating when you start to navigate the regulations of serving food on your farm and we are very happy to share our personal start-up learnings building a commercial kitchen on-farm and serving meals so that other farmers can learn and successfully hit the ground running."

This project is funded under a North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Partnership grant, a funding opportunity to foster cooperation between agriculture professionals and small groups of farmers and ranchers to catalyze sustainable agriculture education. The project involves a team of seven farm partners in Minnesota and Wisconsin including Together Farms (Mondovi, WI), Suncrest Gardens Farm (Cochrane, WI), Borner Farm Project (Prescott, WI), Dream Acres Farm (Spring Valley, MN) and Moonstone Farm (Montevideo, MN).

“We would love to partner with other organizations around the country to share our learnings and support them in developing training publications specific to their state regulations,” adds Joannides. “We look forward to further supporting farmers in evaluating whether an on-farm food service is a good addition that can help diversify their income and strengthen their business.”

Every year, Renewing the Countryside also puts on a variety of events supporting the local food movement, including FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace, a local foods festival and tradeshow in Rochester, Minnesota, and the Healthy Local Food Exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair’s Eco Experience.

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