5 Critical Steps To Avoid Surprises In Agritourism For Your Family Farm

Agritourism For Your Family Farm. Project photo by VELD architect.

A crop scouter investigates your fields to identify the problem spots so that you can control the bugs, prevent mold and nurture poor soil. You want to identify the issues upfront way before the harvest so your crop isn’t ruined. Agritourism for your family farm also requires research before you begin thinking about converting your barn into a charming wedding venue.

After all, you love the land that has been in your family for generations and you are excited to share its beauty with others. You may want additional income and repurposing your farm is a great solution. Whether you want to create a space for wine tasting or transform your fields into a family adventure for picking their own blueberries, take some time to ensure that it is feasible. 

As a professional architect, I recommend that before you start renovating, there are 5 critical steps you need to be aware of to transform your family farm and make your dream a reality:

  1. Be aware of zoning requirements 

One of my clients, Kim, planned to renovate her barn into a wedding venue for 160 people. However, after reviewing the building code, I discovered that the ideal occupancy was for 150 people. The difference of just ten people required her to add more bathroom fixtures, larger septic facilities and include additional parking. If only Kim had contacted me earlier so I could have done the research upfront, she might have dropped the number of occupants to 150 and saved herself thousands of dollars.

Every municipality is different and the policies regarding zoning change from location to location. The zoning codes are often many pages long and filled with complicated jargon that you’ll need to sift through to find the few paragraphs that apply to your property. Depending on the situation and your plans, by rephrasing some text or removing some components you could jump the zoning hurdle.

A planner who is familiar with the different municipalities and the rural zoning codes can help you move forward. If a change to the zoning is required, the project could be delayed anywhere from six months to two years. By knowing whether you meet the code or not right upfront can prevent frustration and a major change in the schedule. This is why I always recommend doing a Project Scouting Report before beginning any project.

  1.  Gain consent from the conservation authorities

You could be planning to build in the natural habitat of an endangered species. Although you may have another method for dealing with the barn swallows, the conservation authorities require that you protect the birds and allow them to nest freely. 

Approval from the authorities comes with its fair share of red tape as they require you to do time-sensitive studies like waiting until spring to check the frog’s mating sites. This could cause a costly delay in your project schedule. Isn’t it better to know before you begin than be surprised along the way?

  1.  Secure site plan approval 

Since different municipalities have different standards, no two projects are the same. Every site has its own issues, just as each piece of farmland is unique. Does your property have the appropriate drainage and removal of sewage? How much parking is required and will you have enough lighting even in the darkest of nights?

Designing in rural areas is different from designing closer to the urban centers. Approval for plans may be a little more relaxed, but it’s still important to have someone who knows how to avoid the pitfalls and negotiate with the local authorities. It’s an intensive process that requires a professional who can navigate the situation in the most cost-effective way. Why spend many hours in meetings and filling out paperwork, when you can have an expert handle the approval process and you can concentrate on farming?

  1. Design your dream

Do you know all the options you have to transform your farm? What are your goals to preserve the past and design your future, all along telling your unique story of being raised rural. With the Project Scouting Report, you’ll know the details and can make informed decisions just like the crop scouter helps you determine how to farm the land most effectively. 

Take the time to plan properly to avoid the unexpected. Wouldn’t it be better to know that you need a structural engineer to make sure the barn has the right foundation before you start building so you can plan your budget accordingly? Design your dream with a clear, thought-out plan so it doesn’t become a nightmare.

  1. Receive building permits

After all the previous paperwork, meetings and approvals are done, then it’s finally time to get a building permit.  But, it’s important to consider the building code in the early phases of your project to make sure you set off on the right track.

Another client of mine, Joe, wanted to build a storage building with a venue for events on the lower level.  In many cases, a two-story building would have required a sprinkler system. A professional architect understands the building code and how it applies in various situations.

By navigating the building code, the building was classified as a single story — saving Joe thousands in costly expenses. 

Agritourism for your family farm  

Farming is a noble profession; after all, you are feeding the population. But sometimes, you may need to expand and let others enjoy your family farm. Deciding to take the steps necessary for agritourism like converting the barn into a wedding venue, picking-your-own strawberries adventure or wine-tasting vineyard, can be a bit overwhelming. Do you know which option is best for you and your farmland?  

Having a professional to guide you through the process, eliminate the paperwork and provide you with choices will give you peace of mind and let you focus on what you do best — farming the land. If you are ready to gain a clear picture of your options using our Project Scouting Report, contact us at 519-301-8408.

Photo credit: VELD architect, Krista Hulshof.

About the author

Krista Hulshof

Raised on a dairy farm and now living on a pig farm, architect Krista Hulshof approaches projects with a practical mentality and hard work ethic. She also brings the benefits of good planning and design. Hulshof is "raising rural" by telling your story through good design and architecture. Owner and "agritect" at VELD architect, she is passionate about helping clients jump through the hoops necessary to achieve their goals in agritourism and bringing memorable experiences to their visitors. Able to design around all things that elevate rural Ontario and agriculture, her specialties include rural design, agriculture design, sustainable building and siting, contemporary design, reclaimed and adaptive reuse of buildings especially barn conversions. She believes in meeting the unique needs of each client, working within an established budget, creating sustainable and green design, and that "good design is good business."