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Upcoming classes to help transform farms into tourist destinations
Cindy Lashbrook of Riverdance Farms will be one of the speakers at the University of California Cooperative Extension's upcoming classes on agritourism in Stanislaus County. - photo by Journal file photo

For over a decade, Riverdance Farms in Livingston has stood as a popular agritourism destination filled with guided farm tours, wine tastings and an annual two-day festival that allows Valley residents and visitors to pick their own blueberries, cherries and strawberries alongside the Merced River.

“I really enjoy getting people connected and outside,” said owner and festival organizer Cindy Lashbrook. “It gives us a sense of place in the community and that feels good to me.”

Since 2004, the Livingston-based farm has been an agritourism hub for the community with a wide variety of recreational, educational and other leisure activities and services to connect visitors with the surrounding natural resources.

These include on-the-farm activities, such as field trips and geo-caching, food-based activities, such as corn mazes and food processing workshops, and farm and ranch heritage activities, such as barn dances and hoedowns.

“We wanted to find the best way to market our crops, while also helping people get out and have fun in nature right by the Merced River,” said Lashbrook.

Lashbrook will be one of the speakers during the University of California Small Farm Program and the University of California Cooperative Extension of Stanislaus County’s upcoming three-session agritourism planning classes, which are being offered for the first time in Stanislaus County.

“Agricultural operations in the Central Valley offer a wealth of beautiful natural resources and unique experiences with local farmers and ranchers. With prices, competition and water situations the way they are all over California, it can be hard to make a living,” said Terri Spezzano, Nutrition, Family & Consumer Science Advisor and County Director with UCCE, Stanislaus County.

“Our workshops will give farmers and ranchers the contacts and tools to more successfully grow and market their individual agritourism enterprises, adding to their income and helping spread the risk of tough production years. Working with others in the community, we hope to expand marketing options for the Northern San Joaquin Valley Region,” continued Spezzano.

Over the course of three sessions, farmers and ranchers will learn the benefits and challenges of various agritourism enterprises, assess their own farm or ranch for agritourism potential , start developing their own business risk management and marketing plans for a new or existing agritourism enterprise, and connect with a network of experienced agritourism operators, tourism professionals and other local experts.

Participants will also learn about the variety of potential businesses, including farm stands, you-pick operations, farm stays, event hosting, tours, festivals, education and outdoor recreation. Each participant will receive a free copy of the UC ANR handbook, "Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California," which will be used as the text for the class. 

“We want to help farmers and ranchers decide if agritourism is right for them,” said UCCE Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff. “This is really getting into a different business because farmers and ranchers are used to producing crops and raising animals and selling products.

“However, when they get into agritourism, they’re selling an experience,” continued Leff.

The three Stanislaus County Agritourism Intensive classes are scheduled from 8:30 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 10, Jan. 21, and Feb. 11 in the Harvest Hall at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way in Modesto.

The cost for the three-session course is $50. To register, visit For more information, call 530-752-7779.