Every once in a while, I am honored to be invited to be on a farmer panel to share what we do at our farm through agri-tourism. The last week in April, I was a part of Making More From Milk, a multi-day experience offered by Global Cow and Global Dairy Outreach. This event included visits to processors and retailers, marketing seminars, and concluded with a step-by-step cheese making opportunity.
    I was part of an afternoon panel of farmers that included Bryan Voegeli and Carrie Xander, who discussed how their milk from their Brown Swiss herd was used to make Yodelay Yogurt. Anna Lankmark spoke of how she and Anna Thomas Bates, began making cheese from sheep milk. John and Kim Koepke told of how they began to have cheese made from their milk.
    Everyone of these farmers were giving details of all that goes into making a quality product and the marketing that goes into getting it to the consumers. The early mornings to go to the Farmer’s Markets, giving out samples at grocery stores, and just pounding the pavement to keep the dairy products on the shelves for people to purchase and add more money to their income on the farm. They all are making more from their milk, and have invested a lot of time and money to become successful with their delicious dairy products. They all said it is hard work, but very satisfying to sell something to others that means a lot personally to them. They all have their heart in it and are very passionate about their endeavors.
    I don’t make cheese or yogurt, and I don’t go to the farmer’s markets or hand out samples at the grocery stores. What I sell is the farm experience. Farm tours add income for our family. We also sell a few other little things that help us earn a few extra dollars during this very financially stressful time.
    We sell goat milk soap. Since I have to milk the few goats we own at times, I freeze the milk and make soap when I have time. It has to cure to make sure the pH is at a safe level because the process is using lye. It is very easy and people will spend money on items that are handmade. Jams, Jelly, pickles and honey are also items people purchase while at our farm.
    Do you have extra vegetables from your garden? Or surplus fruit from your trees or bushes? We all know many zucchinis and tomatoes can come from a few plants. Extra eggs? You don’t have to go to the farmer’s market if you have enough traffic in front of your farm. Set up a table and put out a sign.
    A few years ago, we started skinning and tanning our sheep hides when they were processed. We also skinned a couple of calves too. Making something good from a bad situation, seemed to lesson the loss. Hides can sell as a whole product, but also with some creativity, they can be made in to purses, belts and key chains. Calf hides are a unique product that bring value and some added cash.
    It is important to look around your farm, what do you have that others would be willing to pay you something for. Do you have a stream with fishing opportunities, a wooded area, where the deer and turkeys live that would be a great destination for some sportsmen and women to hunt and fish? There are many people looking for a rural spot to hunt or even just to run their dogs. This could be a possibility for you to think about.
    Do you have empty buildings that would be able to store someone’s camper or boat in the off season? Would your barn work to be converted to have weddings or parties? What do you have that has value? This could be just a little more income.
    As farmers, we are unique. We have things, stuff and opportunities that urban folks don’t. Use this to your benefit and value it. Others do and will pay for the chance to experience what you have to offer.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.