Yun-Shan Huang （China Productivity Center Agriculture Innovation Department）
In more than 40 years of its operation since the founding in 1979, Toucheng Leisure Farm has been devoted to the development of three vital functions of agriculture, namely, production, life, and ecology, and the ideal of ecological sustainability, in designing various tour packages for the general public. It was selected in 2019 as a demonstration farm of circular agriculture by the Hualien District Agricultural Research and Extension Station of Council of Agriculture (COA). What is behind the honor of its being taken as a model farm of leisure agriculture?
Cultivation of the Soft Power—A Solid Team Membership Fostered with Resources Fully Mobilized
Toucheng Farm has actively integrated the expertise of domestic and international academic institutions, educational clubs, leisure agriculture promotion associations, non-profit organizations, etc., so that its development is not confined by the limited size of its regular staff. It has developed channels of consultation in developing new experiential activities and has also adopted new thinking models and feasibilities. For example, by signing MOUs and recruiting international students into the staff, the farm now provides multilingual guided tours and also proceeds to develop overseas market. Its proportion of overseas visitors has reached 25%, and there is still room for further growth.
The First Move of Reform—Self-understanding and Inventory Taking of Resources
The target visitors to leisure farms hope to get close to nature, so the farms keep thinking about making best use of available resources to design unique interactive experience for the visitors. In general, farm resources include visible resources and invisible cultural significance. The inventory taking of visible resources can start with the geographical location of the farm. Is it near the mountain or the coast? Are there rivers and streams passing by? What are the special crops and agricultural products on the farm and in the neighboring area? Are there special facilities such as composting site and organic fields? These resources are to be identified and classified. Agriculture has its own inertia because of its characteristics in production. The inventory taking can also be done in relation to the climate and geographical features so that resources are quickly identified for activity design.
The design and preparation of innovative and dynamic experiential activities requires the use of various agricultural resources and also the unique characteristics. These characteristics, after the inventory taking, can be continuously extended, such as the value of cherishing materials. Besides, the development is not limited to agricultural resources. Local activities such as the Children's Folklore & Folkgame Festival and the Hot Spring Seasons are also valuable resources. The design of the tour programs and packages can meet the demand of the market only after sorting out the various resources and the habits of visitors.
Making the Differences—Extension of the Resource Characteristics
What are the unique features of individual leisure farms when all of them just grow vegetables and raise chickens?
Take the organic vegetable garden in Toucheng Farm as an example. The organic vegetables in the garden can be supplied to the local elementary schools in a program of "localization production and feedback.“ Then, after ideas being sorted out, experiential activities are designed for natural pigment extracts to be extracted from vegetables of different colors. In addition, international students can serve as guides in the food and farming tours to advocate the idea of organic farming, while using food and farming calendars as a focus in the external experiential activities. Native vegetables are used in “vegetable presentations” that are held in green kitchens, as an experiential program from the production site to the dining table and eventually converted to a "farm kitchen." This in turn helps organize guided tours to promote "circular agriculture," with the assistance of the Hualien District Agricultural Research and Extension Station. The program can be offered in conjunction with the biological control crop management in the farm, the development of the composting site and back-end winery products, so that with successful coordination, the individual operation resources can be combined for the maximal benefits.
Resources and technologies need to be transformed into experiential activities to become a source of cash income. Under the current resource conditions, it is only through the extended consideration and resource integration and customized design of experiential activities to achieve the differences and uniqueness that irreplaceable values can be developed.
Create Value-added "Services to Pay for"
Elements of pure knowledge in the guided tours are often missed in memory. The experiential products are a series of services combined without quantitative standards, and are therefore more difficult to control the quality. Consumers of experiential products usually have no physical products to take away. The experiential products therefore can add some tangible memory points to make the experience more memorable. Designs like this are called the "scripts" by the Toucheng team. A good script contains props and dialogues that are carefully designed, with objects that can be hand-made by visitors so as to produce actual experience that can be recorded. The Toucheng Farm team has a prop group, which designs props used at specific time and space based on the designed tour script. The script is shared with other team members before the program begins, so that other team partners in other fields of the farm can also know what role they need to play in the activities, and visitors in different fields can still be immersed in the overall experience atmosphere. In addition, proper arrangement of environment considerably raises the customer satisfaction. Take the dining environment as an example. Tableware layout and lighting should be arranged according to the different places of dining. The indoor dining area may be decorated as a simple rural kitchen with food prepared in a big pot. For picnic on the grass, a long table would be proper with porcelain and candles to build an atmosphere, allowing visitors to experience aesthetics in the natural environment. Tropes can be used ingeniously for visitors of different programs to see the activities in other programs, thus getting motivated to participate in a different program next time.
Unceasing Effort for More Progress
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the leisure industry recently. The number of visitors and the business volume dropped significantly. While the farm staff cannot provide direct service to visitors, they can take this as an opportunity to review and improve the past way of operation and the products, with the hope to attract visitors and have the business bounce back sharply when the pandemic is over. With the help of COA, external third-party consultation has been introduced to develop ideas that have not been thought of before in developing new experiential activities. All industries will face an aging crisis after a long period of operation. They must make continuous adjustment and keep acquiring external stimuli in order to effectively re-examine themselves and go further.
Many leisure farms are doing well in the past few years. Because of the high homogeneity and the easiness with which activities can be duplicated, they find it hard to pursue sustained operation. Through the management and application of the resources, establishment of the team structure, and development analysis of customer programs, Toucheng Leisure Farm has attained both objectives: sustainable promotion and profitability. It is hoped that through sorting and sharing, the experience can help more agricultural operators to successfully transform and develop new products, to effectively manage resources and create mutual benefits, and to enhance the overall value of the industry.