We all need a bit of extra cash at Christmas and farmers are no different. More than that, the festive season means an increase in spending from the general public. So why not capitalise on this festive cheer by earning some extra cash through a Christmas-based farm diversification.
Farms offer an ideal setting for many Christmas events and activities which can generate relatively easy income for landowners and farmers. Unfortunately, most of these farm diversification options do mean opening your farm up to the public, at least in some capacity, so if dealing with the public is not your thing then you may want to avoid some of the event-based options.
However, this can offer an ideal way to test the idea of having the public on your farm and offer practical insights into the process of running events and activities on farm. If you find you enjoy the event you may even decide to look at doing other themed events throughout the year offering a more long-term income stream.
Due to the pandemic many people, particularly parents, are likely to be looking for outdoor events and activities, or those with plenty of space, as this will reduce the Covid risk of any event. This offers farms an ideal opportunity. We are also expecting to see people wanting to spend more on events, experiences and activities than in the last couple of years. Many families will have felt cooped up during the pandemic and are keen to create memories with experiences and events that have been off limits during the pandemic.
The increasing focus on the environment, particularly with the recent COP 26, is likely to lead to more consumers wanting sustainable Christmas decorations and activities. Farmers could benefit through offering activities, such as wreath making, and by offering events which focus on natural and earthy settings, such as live nativities.
Christmas hampers are a great option if, as a farm, you already produce a range of farm diversification products which would suit the hampers. This could also be seen as a way to get rid of end of season products that still have a long shelf life, such as jams and chutneys. You may wish to add to your Christmas hampers with other Christmas specific offerings, such as baked goods including biscuits or gingerbread.
You will need to ensure that all food safety standards are followed and to register as a food business with your local authority, but this is normally free or very cheap and there are many resources online to help you do this. If you already sell any food from the farm then you likely already have this in place, but you may need to check the requirements and current guidelines.
A good way to get the most out of Christmas hampers is to work with other local farms and food producers to create a varied and full selection of items within the hamper. You may have a vineyard local to you who can add some wine, or a dairy farm who are able to include cheese or cream products. The key is to develop these collaborative relationships and offer customers a really high value hamper which is full of sustainable and local produce. This will give you the best possible price for the hamper and enable all contributors to work together to promote them.
Every child loves to meet Santa at Christmas: to sit on his knee and tell him what they want for Christmas. Last year, Santa events had to be socially distanced and many did not run at all, so it is likely that parents will be very keen to get their kids out to see Santa this year. You are likely to have an old barn or shed which, with some creative thinking and good decoration, could be transformed into Santa’s Grotto. You can hire in a Santa or you may be able to convince a family member to don a red suit and beard for the occasion.
You can further extend the money-making opportunities by offering professional photographs with Santa and having a photographer work the event. Many photographers will offer a commission option where they sell their prints and you are given a percentage of the earnings. There may also be the option to upsell parents with mulled wine by the cup or similar complementary products.
Depending on your farm set up, you are likely to have a few somewhat tame animals who might be persuaded into playing nicely with the children. Most children from urban or even semi-urban environments will have never had the opportunity to get up close and personal with livestock. Offering an animal petting area can be a great way to extend your festive farm diversification offering. It also gives you the chance to road test the idea of education farm diversification options or event farm park opportunities, should these be of interest to you.
Your selection of animals and set up will significantly effect how feasible this option is, but you may also be able to work with farming neighbours to fill in any gaps as needed. Depending on when you lamb you may also be able to offer bottle feeding, which may seem very run of the mill for you but for non-farming families it is a real treat.
Make sure you provide plenty of supervision for the animals and children to keep everyone safe and be sure to provide handwashing facilities either at a sink with soap or using hand sanitiser. This is good practice for animal petting even outside of Covid times but even more so presently.
You will need to check the local guidelines regarding display animals and public interaction but for non-educational purposes this is normally relatively simple.
Live nativities are where the nativity scene is created using real people and real animals. They first began to gain popularity in the US but the trend has now reached the UK, and with an ever-increasing focus on authentic and natural themes for Christmas experiences they are set to become even more popular in coming years.
Many mixed livestock farms are likely to be able to supply most of the common animals without having to think outside the box: chickens, sheep/lambs and cows are all common choices. The one area where farms may be lacking is the donkey, and this is a rather essential ingredient in the live nativity scene. However, there are many donkey owners across the UK so it is likely you can source one from your local area; you simply need to get in touch with local equestrian and donkey groups.
Live nativities can be run from your farm as part of the larger selection of festive farm diversification activities, but you may also wish to look into offering animals to other nativity events, such as in schools. Taking animals off farm does require further planning and paperwork but this could be ideal option for earning a few extra pounds at Christmas time. It could even lead to developing relationships with local schools who may be interested in your help for other events throughout the year, such as Easter events.
Extending the Santa’s Grotto idea, you may be able to offer festive tractor rides both as a way to get to the grotto and as a service in its own right. Christmas train journeys and such like are already very popular and so a festive tractor ride could be planned in the same way. If you have a collection of festive events going on across the farm you can use the tractor rides as a way to easily control the movement of the public between different events, which gives you more control over their behaviour and whereabouts.
There are two ways in which wreath making could be used as a festive farm diversification. Firstly, you may be able to make wreaths on farm and sell them to local people either as part of a wider festive offering or as a stand-alone option. This could work especially well if you have an existing honesty box or vending machine space where you sell goods at the farm gate.
Secondly, you could offer wreath making as an on-farm activity. This would work particularly well alongside some of the other festive farm diversification events we have mentioned above. Wreath making using natural and sustainable elements is likely to be very popular this year as it goes hand in hand with the trend towards more natural and organic Christmas decorations.
Once again, this can be supplemented by cakes, treats and drinks to be purchased alongside the wreath making experience. All these small purchases can add up to a substantial spend per person.
If you enjoy Christmas events and have a large area which is not being used, such as a large old barn or even a cleared-out farm yard, you may be able to offer a Christmas fair. These are now hugely popular with almost every town in the UK having some form of Christmas fair. By having the event on a farm you can allow more space so people will feel safer regarding Covid guidelines and also tie it in with complementary festive farm diversifications as above.
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