When Steve Briggs’s father died seven years ago, he had doubts about keeping the 540-acre
farm in the family. The Briggs farm is set down
near Winona, in southeast Minnesota. About 100 acres is tillable, much of the rest is in timber.
“It’s a family farm purchased by my parents in 1978,” Briggs explains. “My goal is to keep it in the family and pass it on to my boys in better shape than I got it.”
To do it, he came upon the idea of ecotourism--hosting a growing list of events from guided hunts to pizzas, farmhouse stays and weddings.
While Briggs’s dad, a dentist who farmed part-time, had raised beef cattle and elk on the farm, his son knew that wasn’t going to support the operation. Briggs owns his own corn and soybean farm in Iowa, and earns income from rental property in Winona. He didn’t want his family to give up the farm where he had been raised, but Briggs wanted the farm on more solid footing than a “hobbyist’s” income.
Deer Held Promise. Situated in the bluff country seven miles west of the Mississippi River, the Briggs’ property sits in prime white-tailed deer hunting territory. That abundant wild resource was the cornerstone for what became Briggs Outdoors (www.briggsoutdoors.com).
“We started it exclusively as a hunting operation with food plots and ponds,” Briggs explains. “We’ve always managed the farm for deer and turkey, but shotgun and muzzleloader season only gave us an income November to mid-December.” Briggs also raises alfalfa and a small herd of grass-fed beef along with a few sheep (he direct-markets all his meat, mainly through friends, neighbors and Facebook), but it just wasn’t enough.
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Full-Time Resource. “We wanted to try and utilize [the farm] the whole year,” Briggs adds.
And, that’s exactly what he, his wife, Jenel, and mom, Susan, did. They added an archery season for hunting, started renting out the old farmhouse for farm stays and cleared 15 miles of trails on the farm for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to generate business during the winter. They added trout fishing on the spring-fed creek that runs through the farm and began offering fat biking (the off-road bike rentals included for those who don’t bring their own). The three added guided bird-watching experiences, an often impressive event given the property’s location along the Mississippi Flyway.
Briggs charges $2,500 per person for a farmhouse stay with five days of guided hunting service or $550 per day for one day of hunting. During archery season, he charges $175 per day plus another $125 per night for accommodations and trophy fees.
More recently, Briggs added a large wood-fired pizza oven for feeding guests. “The pizzas are really dynamite, made with fresh ingredients from the farm and local farmers’ markets,” Briggs says.
The Briggs added weddings to their menu of enterprises. The family charges a flat rate of $2,750 for a wedding. That includes access to the entire farm and farmhouse, two nights stay in the farmhouse and two dozen wood-fired pizzas.
A Long Guest List. Briggs says he probably hosts about 1,000 unique visitors annually on the farm, taking into account weddings and hosting corporate events.
Briggs carries liability insurance for most of these enterprises. It’s included in the general insurance coverage for his farm. For special events on his property, such as weddings, he asks the client to take out special event insurance.
Briggs allows he hasn’t been able to generate enough revenue yet to support his family full-time from the Winona farm, but it is the long-term goal.
He has advice for other farmers looking to generate alternative income through ecotourism: “Start small and grow organically,” he suggests. “Know what direction you’re headed in. But, don’t get all your finances tied up in one thing.”
And, because any kind of activity that involves bringing visitors onto your farm is going to be labor intensive, Briggs says to make sure you not only like people but what you’re doing is a labor of love. “You’ve got to be passionate about it,” he says.
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