Visit NC Farms App Is Useful Tool for Agritourism
An online presence is important for farms with agritourism and direct-to-the-consumer products. While you may have your own website and social media outreach, which is important, an app created and marketed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) helps put hundreds of agricultural-based destinations at people’s fingertips. It is a useful marketing tool to consider for your business.
The Visit NC Farms app, referred to as a cooperative marketing initiative, draws on a broad range of support and partners from across the state, says Annie Baggett, agribusiness developer and agritourism marketing specialist with NCDA&CS. It is designed to help North Carolina residents and visitors find and locate farms. It is worth considering if you are looking to expand your farm’s reach.
Launched in 2018, the app “currently has 81 counties, four state farmers markets, and more than 1,600 farms, fisheries, markets or other agricultural based destinations like farm-to-table restaurants and local shops offering value-added products, with more onboarding,” says Annie. The goal is to have all 100 counties represented. While the app’s purpose is greater connection between farms and consumers, it is also a great showcase of how the state’s farm families make a living while facilitating consumers’ efforts to buy and support local.
Pandemic Increases Interest
The growth and interest in the app increased greatly in 2021. “This pandemic has underscored the importance of local food and outdoor experiences more than ever,” Annie explains. “Farms, fisheries, farmers markets and local restaurants had to pivot business models in response to the pandemic. With the app, we were able to ask ‘How can we help?’” That resulted in being able to change listings to let customers know how and where farms were conducting business. Buttons were added that linked directly to online stores and identifying tags were added to let customers know how the business was operating, such as delivery, online store, or curbside pickup.
While the app is of benefit to farmers and others with agricultural-based businesses, no matter the size, it’s also beneficial to consumers who turn to it to find agricultural points of interest, including farms and fisheries, pick your own, farmers markets, local food and drink, shop local, farm stays and lodging, tours and trails, and special events.
Users can find destinations close to them or off the beaten path with a touch map that allows them access to individual farm information with the push of a button. Users can also search by farm product and receive notifications based on interests or regions of the state.
“With the goal of having farms from all 100 counties represented on the app, the progress we have made toward statewide expansion has been very rewarding, especially during the pandemic,” Annie adds. “For the majority of the state, when you download the app, you are able to find local farms, food and fun near you.”
For farmers, the benefit is an app that works for them and likely has far greater reach than an individual farm’s efforts.
Success Stories and Popular Features
Annie shares some examples of how the app has connected farmers and consumers. Examples range from customers in the Charlotte region discovering farmers in neighboring counties and driving to farm stands multiple times during the pandemic to purchase farm products, to families finding farm stay opportunities in the western part of state, to an increased interest from consumers resulting in more direct-to-the-consumer sales. Use of the site increased significantly during the fall season, a time when farm visits increase, and during the holidays when users were looking for Christmas trees, wreaths, pecans, and other winter seasonal products and holiday activities.
Popular features with both farmers and consumers are the push notifications with real-time content from local farms that pop up on users’ screens. App users can adjust push notification settings from getting the mini billboard messages close to home, regionally, or from the entire state. App filters make it easy for folks to find exactly what they’re looking for.
The special events category is also popular as are the colorful suggested products and activity buttons at the top of the app screen, making it easy to explore what is in season. A new feature is the Itinerary + Trips feature. “You can explore suggested itineraries like the Farm Heritage Trail in Buncombe County or the Black-Owned Markets and Farms in Durham. App users have the ability to create their own unique trips. They can then view their route and get driving directions to the destinations directly from the app,” says Annie.
The Visit NC Farms app is updated every day. Nearly 200 app administrators statewide, the majority of whom are N.C. Cooperative Extension personnel with two representatives in each county, are responsible for maintaining the app’s content, securing push notification and special event content. Other administrators represent Soil & Water, and various Chambers of Commerce, economic development, and tourism offices. Carolina Farm Credit and N.C. Farm Bureau also provide support from the local to the state level.
To learn more specifics on how the Visit NC Farms app can help your farm’s marketing efforts, visit www.visitncfarmstoday.com or contact Annie Baggett, agribusiness developer and agritourism marketing specialist at email@example.com or Victoria Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Leah Chester-Davis