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Small US farms find profit in tourism

For all the talk about sustainable agriculture, most small farms are not self-sustaining in a very basic sense: they can't make ends meet financially without relying on income from jobs off the farm.

business Updated: Jun 10, 2011 20:42 IST

For all the talk about sustainable agriculture, most small farms are not self-sustaining in a very basic sense: they can't make ends meet financially without relying on income from jobs off the farm.

But increasingly farmers are eking more money out of the land in ways beyond the traditional route of planting crops and raising livestock. Some have opened bed-and-breakfasts, often known as farm stays, that draw guests eager to get a taste of rural living. Others operate corn mazes -now jazzed up with modern fillips like maps on cellphones - that often turn into seasonal amusements, with rope courses and zip lines. Ranchers open their land to hunters or bring in guests to ride horses, dude ranch style.

Known as agritourism, such activities are becoming an important economic boost for many farmers.

Early each morning, Jim Maguire milks the sheep and goats and feeds the pigs on his small dairy farm here before heading off to his day job as a public defender in San Luis Obispo County. But in recent years, Maguire has added some new chores: changing linens and serving food to the guests who stay at Rinconada Dairy's two bed-and-breakfast units, one in a private wing of the farmhouse and the other in a remodeled corner of a barn. Money from the paying guests is now enough to pay for the animals' feed, one of the farm's biggest expenditures.

"The whole idea is to get the farm in a productive state so that it carries itself, so that it pays its own way," Maguire said.