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Agritourism ft Sugar Water Manor

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Show Notes

Join Nicole and Dana from Sugar Water Manor as they discuss Agritourism.

What You’ll Learn

  • What is Agritourism?
  • What are the biggest challenges in opening an Agritourism business?
  • Tips to help you open your own Agritourism business
  • How Agritourism can help people reconnect to the food that they eat.

Our Guest

Sugar Water Manor is an Agritourism farm in its first year of business. With 70 acres, 2 lodge houses, gardens, a farm filled with animals…and it is still growing!

Dana’s husband is a Ph.D. in Environmental Economics and works for Perdue Farms. Dana is building the farm as well as having her own brand and consulting business.

Both love their life on the farm and are dedicated through their Agritourism business to educating others on farms, allowing them to experience where their food comes from, and introducing people to other farms via social media.

Resources & Links Mentioned

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    Announcer: 0:01

    Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.

    Nicole: 0:17

    Hello, everybody. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode of backyard bounty. I'm your host Nicole and today I'm joined by Dana Zucker of the Sugar Water Manor. And today we're going to talk about agritourism and ecotourism and how they got started and why it's something that you know, you could consider for your homesteader farm as well. So Dana, thank you so much for joining me today.

    Dana: 0:41

    Well, thank you, Nicole, for having me. It's my pleasure. So happy to be here.

    Nicole: 0:45

    I'm so excited to have you on the show. It's been a long time coming. I feel like you know, 2020 has been interesting. So it took a little while to coordinate things. But you know, I really love following you on Instagram, and I love your place there and everything that you have going on. And so I'm really excited to have you on the show. So thank you so much.

    Dana: 1:05

    Thank you, we're a little bit of a mishmash, hectic square getting started. But we are excited to be part of this community.

    Nicole: 1:11

    Well, you know, everybody has to start somewhere. And usually the challenge is in the beginning. So before we start talking about agritourism, specifically, can you give us a little bit more background on on what you have going on? And we can talk a little bit about how you got started.

    Dana: 1:30

    Absolutely. So we basically started by mistake. About 28-29 years ago, my husband and I visited the eastern shore of Maryland. And we were just out of our Master's programs and working in DC and we took our first official vacation, and we're like, this would be a cool place to live. Fast forward, 28 years later, and I'm in Iceland at an Icelandic lamb farm on a food tourism travel press trip. I'm a travel food writer, and he calls me and said, "Hey, want to move to the eastern shore of Maryland?". I'm like, "Well, I don't know, I'm in Iceland and it's pretty cool." And then I thought a minute like, Oh, I know where that is. So I'm like, "Sure, let's go." So 28 years later, we're back on the eastern shore. And kind of a funny story, unfortunately, he wasn't able to come with me on a house hunting trip. But for about seven years, we've been looking for someplace to live where we could have a, you know, Hobby Farm, a little homestead. And we never imagined that we would find something that met all of our needs that had water like a river, we love active water. It had a beautiful old barn, and another old barn and a house. And it had two other houses. And I'm like, we're going to make this work. I don't know what I'm going to do. But I'm going to make this work. And that's Sugar Water Manor, and how our lodge houses and agritourism was built.

    Nicole: 2:58

    Isn't it funny how sometimes life just falls into place?

    Dana: 3:01

    Oh, yeah, yeah. empty nesters. Let's get a little house in a little condo in the city. And that's what we were living in. And we're like, this isn't us. Let's go find a nest and fill it. That's what we did.

    Nicole: 3:13

    That's great. Now and in reading some of your background too. Can you tell me more about the marine animal hospital because that seems you know, a little a little different than being said?

    Dana: 3:27

    It's a little bit different. So I actually my degrees are in Early Childhood and Family Development. I was a early childhood nonprofit director for years and years. And when we lived for a short stint in Florida, I wasn't working at the time. And I was volunteering at the aquarium and stepped up when they needed someone to fill in because they needed somebody just to manage for a little bit while they were looking for CEO. I said I'd be there for three months. I was there three years. And it was wonderful. I was the chief operating officer as they were searching for a chief executive officer. And we rescued and released many animals, but one that you might know is a Winter the Dolphin with the prosthetic tail...

    Nicole: 4:08

    Oh, really?

    Dana: 4:08

    That we brought in. Yeah, she's one of my babies. The vet called me in the middle of the night and said can we please? And I would like well, humans caused this damage. Everybody else wanted to euthanize her. And I'm like, let's give it a try. So we gave it a try. And my husband actually his degrees are in wildlife, and environmental economics. And so it was a very good fit for us to kind of have this lifestyle. So it really it fit.

    Nicole: 4:35

    Well, that's really that's a great story. How interesting.

    Dana: 4:38


    Nicole: 4:38

    So how did you make the transition when you moved into the homestead and stuff? Why did you go from Hobby Farm for lack of better terms to an agritourism?

    Dana: 4:48

    Well, I think like both good things. It was by mistake. You know, I was looking for certain things when I came to look for a home for David and I and this place this spectacular It's called Clifton Manor, it's historic home had magnificent history on the river. And it's not that I'm a history buff or an old home fan, but it fit and it felt right. And I'm like, we're gonna do something with it. And I was here with a friend of mine, we made the offer. And I always had a love and I traveled the world studying farms and talking about farms and the different cultures, I was in China on tea plantations, talking about their farming, and then out in the country in China, like way outside of the cities, on farms, learning how they farmed, explaining that to people. So where our food comes from, and how culture and tradition and everything brings it to our table. So I had a passion for that. So being able to hone that in to how can we allow people here to come to us and have a taste of that experience. And agritourism, you know, is more than a buzzword, our local university just received a grant last year to study agro tourism, we found out but it's really about giving people the experience that they might not otherwise have to touch their food to see what that dirt feels like to grab an egg out of a coop. Or to just come and relax and be amongst the sounds, and the smells and everything else that go on here. And I think that, you know, we talk so much about farm to table, but people don't actually see where that comes from. And although we're you know, homestead kind of place, they can have the experience driving past these other farms see where chickens are raised, see where the corn is grown, see these other production farms as well.

    Nicole: 6:47

    And so what sort of activities or events do you hold on your farm?

    Dana: 6:52

    So you know, COVID, right. We were supposed to open in May we bought Sugar Water Manor, or what was called Clifton Manor at the time, the house is called Clifton. We renamed it Sugar Water Manor, the property, we were supposed to open the two large houses in May of this year, we bought the property in January of 2019. So it was a year after we were ready, and due to COVID, we didn't open, some of our construction was slowed down because we only allow one worker in the house in the lodge is at a time to do construction and stuff like that. And we are officially open. We are taking reservations and we have our first guests arriving. So that's kind of exciting. But what our plans are kind of mixed right now we are doing a contact list kind of experience here where people can come they can be part of the property. You know, we ask them to carry a mask and they're walking around, they can be in the gardens, they can let me know when they want might want to interact with some of our animals. And we can arrange that so that they are in a place where they can go interact with us at a far distance. They can go out to the gardens, our gardens here on the eastern shore grow year round. Plus, we have cold frames, and the garden house, or they can just sit on their porch or inside the lodge house and watch everything from in there. But hopefully, in season when things get going. And we can do more, we have kayaking, we have bald eagles that live on the property that fish in the river here. So they're amazing to watch. We have a pool, and there's the local area, which is filled with history. And she could take Island and ask island where the ponies run wild. And there's just a lot going on.

    Nicole: 8:41

    It really sounds like I mean, for lack of better terms, a really magical place.

    Dana: 8:45

    it is. And what's interesting is we have adult children, and one of our children live in lives in New York and she brings friends down now and again. Well, now they're actually living in one of the lighthouses she and her boyfriend, but they have friends down there like well, what can we do in the local area? People always ask us, David's brothers, well, what can we do in the local area, and they get down here, and they never leave the property, so that's nice.

    Nicole: 9:12

    So what are some of the biggest challenges that you faced, you know, or maybe some unexpected challenges as well, as you've worked on putting all of this together? Other than, you know, the obvious of COVID Yeah, yeah. So

    Dana: 9:23

    I would say one of our biggest challenges is learning we are not although my husband has a very strong background in everything that we're doing here and agriculture background, but all three of his degrees are in the field that we're in. Our biggest challenge is learning and it's learning about the dirt. It's learning how to start plants from seed. It's learning how to have a deep litter chicken coop so that because we we our chicken coop is in an old corn crib so that we clean it in August and it can build up that heat all winter long and how It's properly ventilated and living amongst the animals here living amongst the wildlife like the Eagles, and the fox. And it's just a lot of that learning. And I will admit, Nicole, a lot of learning is on Instagram from amazing homesteaders and farmers.

    Nicole: 10:17

    Yeah, you know, I use Instagram as a resource a lot as well. Absolutely, I totally understand that.

    Dana: 10:23

    But finding my partners here like finding a vet who respects my ideas of how I want my animals to be raised, and everything, so it's just the learning curve. And then we farm in soy, we had farming, just about sand here. So how to learn how to do those types of farming when you don't have like this big dense dirt that you're used to.

    Nicole: 10:48

    So for somebody that might be considering starting up agritourism, or kind of a bed and breakfast, Airbnb, that kind of thing on their own place. What are some tips or advice or suggestions or learn from your mistakes, or all of the above that you could share with someone?

    Dana: 11:06

    Oh, absolutely. So many mistakes that we have made. And so many mistakes that we have learned from, I would say first off, make sure that you know how to do everything yourself. Although you can rely on great partners and great people around you, you want to make sure that you always know how to do things, because there's going to be a time like in COVID, or when somebody can't come help you that you need to know how to do things. And you want to set yourself up for success with your knowledge. Like I said, Instagram, YouTube, some of my best friends. Luckily, my vet is very good to me, my first bumblefoot on a chicken, she walked me through on FaceTime, you know, it's those little things. But I would say that's the first thing is make sure that you are knowledgeable, and that you're comfortable learning how to do those things. The second thing is, I think know what you're setting up for and be prepared, because you never know what's going to happen, we never knew COVID was going to come and we wouldn't be able to open. So we had to pivot here we had spent money on you know, building out these places. So you have to always diversify your income and, and pivot when you need to. And I think that that's really important for people to realize, and be prepared for. And then another big thing for me was getting to know my market and getting to know my local friends and partners, so that I could have resources locally. But also I could figure out where I needed to market where I needed to target to in order to get people to come and stay with us, you know, to buy a night we're selling something. So that's another piece. And I guess the last piece is another learning curve, which is learning all the regulations, learning how you have to get insurance and be prepared to you know, set up your LLC, this LLC for "Sugar Water Manor" is separate than my "Mom's Good Eats" or "Life Done Well" business because you have to have that separation, and you just have to be ready for all aspects of it. It's not just like, here's an Airbnb, you know, it's, it's what it what's the whole picture of it?

    Nicole: 13:19

    Yeah. And that's a good point that you brought up something that that I don't know, that I would have thought of I know that locally, they were really cracking down on people that were subletting rooms and stuff on Airbnb, and they started taxing it and putting some real challenges in place that I think really shut a lot of people down.

    Dana: 13:39

    Yeah, it did. And I think that it's a double sided, you also have to know your market and set up for success and know where you are. But you know whether or not we use B RPO, or Airbnb or any of that I don't know yet because I'm really focusing on a targeted market in order to maximise on our income. Try not to use third parties, and see how far I can take it that way. First, use my own experience and social media and my husband is a marketer for a large company. So he has a very strong marketing background as well. So I feel like that's one of our strong suits compared to "Oh, no, the goat has a hoof that has an issue. How are we going to catch it?" and do this and that.

    Nicole: 14:22


    Dana: 14:22

    You know, that's part of what we've been able to do. But you do worry about who's going to come what's going to happen so having the interactions with your potential consumers online and finding out you know, what they are online is kind of nice. Yeah. I mean, you can target your audience.

    Nicole: 14:40

    And you never know if people nowadays, not to scare anybody but I mean, you just you know, you never know...

    Dana: 14:45

    I don't I don't want to end up with somebody here and then them bringing 18 friends over and you know, that's not where we are. We are on a... all three houses have their own little septic system and they're not made for parties.

    Nicole: 14:57

    Sure. So I understand you guys are still new in this is all still developing. But so far, what have you found to be most successful as far as finding people that would like to come stay with you? You mentioned social media, but is there? You know, any anything specific?

    Dana: 15:15

    Yeah. So that is one of our strong suits. Again, we are both in that industry. I, yeah, I had my own websites and still do beforehand. And I love social media, which is strange to hear coming out of a woman in her 50s. I love social media. I think there's such a wealth there, for people to be able to share information like you and I both agreed before, it's where we gain knowledge, and interact with people who are in similar situations. So being able to look for consumers who can can use that social media in order to find you. And I think that that is something that's so so special. So what we did is, before any of this started, Dave and I had this idea of how we were going to use these houses. We started really, really targeting the social media hashtags and ideas and getting it out to consumers, not as much to other homesteaders or farmers. How did we make this sexy to a consumer? And we started social media before we started anything else. And you know, having Great Pyrenees, rescue pups and little rescue Nigerian dwarf goats, they have a lot of social media.

    Nicole: 16:35

    I would imagine so.

    Dana: 16:37

    So that's not why we have them. But it of course, of course, but starting out with, with that kind of outlook as to how do we set ourselves up in the marketplace before we even have a product to sell. And that's how we kind of started and put our positioning out there. First on social media and attracting followers, and going about it that way. And I will admit, I, you know, on "My Mom's Good Eats" Instagram, is where I talk about most of our daily life. And I do have to transition that over to Sugar Water Manor. It's just all the years of my followers following along and to be honest with you, that's where the reservations have come in through so far, is people who follow the daily chaos and stories and wins and losses that we have on Instagram stories, I think, to answer your question, I think, being open to putting yourself out there so that people would want to be invited into that environment. and want to learn more about this, you know, homesteading, and farming and where your food comes from.

    Nicole: 17:48

    Well, I think that makes sense too, because not only, you know, for you, as the host, you'd kinda like to know who's going to stay with you, the guests would probably like to know their hosts to some degree as well. So I'm sure seeing your face and hearing your voice and seeing pictures and things are probably really helpful for them to connect, and then and then want to come visit and get to know you, and your farm, or whatever it is better as well.

    Dana: 18:13

    Exactly. It's very interesting, because when I was doing a lot of traveling and writing, and about food, and everything all over the world, it's very interesting to see how much people want to connect with their food, and want to connect with how their food is grown and cared for before they eat it. But there's little knowledge as to what actually happens in that process. And I think that being able, whether it's on a small farm like ours, or if it's on a small farm like ours, and then you can go have an experience someplace else on a larger farm or take a tour, it gives you more respect for your food. And I think one of the biggest things, I'm in the middle of a campaign right now with the Kansas Farm Association, and Kansas Soybean Commission, and I was interviewing a rancher, and I've worked with them for years, as on my own blog, and listening to them talk about the fact that, you know, family farming makes up 90% of the food that comes to our table. And people have this idea that there's that it's grown on some big factory farms, but there's actually humans behind what what we're doing and families You know, this is a mother and a daughter, you know, the mom, and the daughter and five year old and the husband who you know, raised these cows and everything. And those types of they just you can't get on to those farms as excessively but if you can come here and have a little bit of that experience, and I can introduce you to Brandy and tell you Oh, you should follow Brandy on social media. Oh, you should follow Nicole on social media. It then opens up a whole new world that I think we're going to be able to share even larger so we can impact one family at a time or one person at a time, and then push them out to those other farms. It's going to also agritourism can change our whole mentality on where our food comes from, I think.

    Nicole: 20:11

    I think that's really a wonderful philanthropic drive. I know I recently saw commercial on TV for like a premade food. Gosh, they were like, basically fancy TV dinners, I don't know, really explain them. But the commercial was, you know, you go on, and you pick which ones you want, they come to your door, and then you just pop them in the oven. And then two doll dinners made. And the takeaway of that commercial was, Oh, my gosh, we never have to cook again. And, and this is getting a little sidetracked. But, you know, I actually found that commercial, really tragic, because people are not going to know where their food comes from. And I feel like cooking is going to become kind of like a lost art where, you know, oh, grandma knows how to cook. But I don't just like cursive is, is on its way out. And yeah, that commercial. Really, I found it. I found it very concerning. So I think that it's really great that there's people out there like you that are helping people understand where their food comes from, and why this is so important. And I can just see that it's something that's starting to fade away in today's culture.

    Dana: 21:14

    Yeah, I worry about that a lot. And I worry, you know, one thing COVID has helped as backyard gardens, you know, these Victory Gardens. But that only travel so far. And I think that if we can get these experiences, and then those people share them on their Facebook and Instagram, and then somebody else says, Oh, you know, not that they might not come here, but just that they might follow somebody else on Instagram just to be inspired. I had to stop cussing on my Facebook stories, because I was getting my Instagram stories. Because I was getting notes that said, I watch these with my kids now because they like the daily updates on Willie, you know, well. My kids like to see the ducks in the morning, he so I had to kind of change my sometimes when you slip in the mud, kind of like stuff.

    Nicole: 22:03


    Dana: 22:03

    But the fact that we can reach those kids and be a part of their day to understand that and then I can slip in that little bit of education in there. makes a big difference. So David, and I really see this as kind of many problems. But two of the main one is, it's that sexy sell to get that city person out of their environment. On to the farm, let them relax, let them see what's going on, let them go cut their sage or pick some kale for dinner or whatever they want to do. So they can have that really fresh from the garden difference and fresh from the coop egg or duck egg if they want. But also that they walk away knowing that they did that and sharing that experience and then allowing us to also maybe introduce them to somebody else who provides food to their table.

    Nicole: 22:59

    Yeah, I love that. I think that's really really great networking and just just as good for everyone.

    Dana: 23:05

    Oh, yeah. I was just writing an article today on Sugar Water Manor which as we're putting up that website, you know, there's a lot to be done still. But one of the kind of page holders I put in there is a page about other farmers like like this Brandy, who I'm working with through the Kansas Farm Bureau and Soybean Commission is is being able to share other stories of other working farms and ranches. It's there's so much out I just get so excited. I got excited before we had the farm and I would travel to Belize and I get to go down and actually be on the farm with the people raising everything and now we've got our own bees here and our own garden.

    Nicole: 23:50

    So in a way the tables have kind of turned because you were the guest and now you're the host so you're kind of providing that international experience that you had locally for other people.

    Dana: 24:00

    Oh yeah, we we used to go well we have a place that we go to in Belize a lot we are avid fly fisherman, David more so than me, but one of the reasons that he picked this particular location was because it at the time was providing 87% of the food that they fed the people at the lodge fresh from the farm. And we became very good friends with the Chef Renee Everett of Jungle Farm Chef on Instagram, and over the years of us going there had built a friendship and actually, she had just left El Campo, it's now called called Cobble Tree Lodge. She had just left there, her time was up. And I called her and I said hey, anyway, you want to come consult with me? And I invested. We invested in her coming here and helping me that first year in the gardens because she had that experience. So that was an I think that's another key takeaway for people looking to grow it Sometimes you need to make an investment to learn and having Renae come here for a couple of months, and really work side by side with me and be able to teach me what that bug is. And if that's a good bug or a bad bug, and what we're going to do with that bug and how to tie a piece, so that it can still grow in where you want it to wander those little, little tricks.

    Nicole: 25:22

    Sure, as much as I love the internet, you can't get everything from it, sometimes need that one on one.

    Dana: 25:27

    Yeah. And I'm still a little old school in my way, so having someone next to me doing that, and then actually being in the kitchen with me, because she has, you know, she's a professional chef, but being in the kitchen with me to do that. So, to show me how to different ways to do things, it was an invaluable experience to have her with us for that time.

    Nicole: 25:48

    So what would you say are some of the biggest benefits or impacts of agritourism either, you know, with like the local economy or, or otherwise,

    Dana: 25:59

    You know, what I think of benefits, I look at them in two ways: one for the local economy. I live in Maryland on the eastern shore where our number one, you know, source of income is agriculture. And so being able to bring people here to engage in those experiences, and I think we also have to think about agriculture as aquaculture. You know, we have fishing, we have crabbing, we have oyster beds that are being restored right here in the river that we live on, and just released this huge impact. So you know, you have off the culture as well. And there's so much happening in this local area from antiquing and farming and fishing and looking at the ponies on the island. So people coming here, it's such a unique place to come. And I think that it's a low tourism spot. So for our local economy, I think that there's a great benefit to that, and benefit anywhere where there's farming and ranching going on. But I think the other benefits to those of us who do it, who are homesteaders, or farmers or ranchers or whatever is when you look at it as an additional income stream into what you're doing that it's you know, you can be flexible with your seasons and have that flex flexibility among it. And then it also allows you like we've talked about to interact with people interact with consumers. And I think that overall, it can transform the view that the consumer has on farmers and farming. And what really happens by having those interactions.

    Nicole: 27:35

    I think those are all wonderful reasons. If somebody has the facility and the means it sounds like it's something that that we should all consider if we can.

    Dana: 27:46

    I have to admit when David and I were once fishing on the Yakima River out in Washington, and the only place that I could find to stay was this little, you know, Airbnb, and it was in the tackle room, they had converted room in the barn to her room. And we woke up in this in the morning to this loud screaming. Their goat stands on that porch every morning.

    Nicole: 28:11

    Oh, my goodness!

    Dana: 28:12

    And that's where she says "Good morning!" So that was one of our best experiences doing it and we just by chance ended up among agritourism because it was the only place to stay

    Nicole: 28:25

    Sure. And now you have a great experience and great story to tell.

    Dana: 28:29


    Nicole: 28:33

    So obviously you're well traveled you you're well spoken you have a lot of really interesting stories and then of course your new venture in Sugar Water Manor. So where can we follow you get more information maybe book a visit? How How do we go about that?

    Dana: 28:49

    Oh, thank you for asking, Nicole. So you can always find us at "", the website is up. It still needs lots of love, I'm not a back end person but I'm slowly learning it all. I've business partner who helps me manage my other sites but this one is all David and I. So is where you can find us on all of our handles on social media, our Sugar Water Manor, and we actually also have one on Tik Tok. I try to get the animals up there. I'm not real good at it yet. And if you want to follow the daily chaos of what goes on, you can always follow me at "Mom's Good Eats" on Instagram. That's where the daily stories are happening behind the scenes eventually I'll probably convert that over and duplicate it on to Sugar Water Manor but right now, that's on Mom's Good Eats but you can always find us at Sugar Water Manor.

    Nicole: 29:40

    Wonderful and I definitely suggest everybody check it out. And of course we'll have all the links to all of the social media in our description so you can just take a look at it there too. So Dana, thank you so much. This has been such a wonderful time and I really enjoyed talking with you today and and thank you for joining me.

    Dana: 30:00

    Thank you, Nicole, so much for having me. I really appreciate it. We enjoy sharing our message.

    Nicole: 30:05

    And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode. If you do enjoy our episodes, please check out our show notes where we have a link to sign up to get episodes sent directly to your inbox every week. And thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you again next week.

    Announcer: 30:22

    Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show. please email us at "[email protected]". Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week!

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