Thirty minutes outside of Pittsburgh, amidst rolling topography and green fields, you can find Greg Boulos, Jen Montgomery, and any number of community members working on Blackberry Meadows Farm, an organic farm that uses biodynamic and permaculture systems to produce healthy, fresh food.
While Blackberry Meadows Farm has run a successful farmer’s market and community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, they also have been able to diversify their farm’s income to make it more profitable and engaging for the community.
On top of their vegetable farming and pasture-raised pigs and poultry, they host potlucks and events, run farm tours, and even provide their neighbors with seeds and insight into starting their own farming operations.
While they’re heavily committed to their local community and their profitable farm, Jen and Greg wanted to invite people from farther off and expand their agritourism offerings beyond just their AirBnb rooms.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic, which made keeping safe AirBnB operations untenable, caused Jen and Greg to adjust their thinking and look to other forms of agritourism and ways they could invite tourists to the land, and they decided to open an outdoor Airbnb option.
With their Honeycomb campaign, Blackberry Meadows raised $27,000 from 39 investors to purchase 2 canvas cabins so they could safely continue offering farm stays and expand the agritourism side of their business!
Different varieties of Community Investment
Greg and Jen have owned the farm since 2008, and with it came not only the beautiful land, but also a deep connection to the community around it, which at the time was seriously lacking in fresh, local food.
In fact, community investment isn’t a new concept to Blackberry Meadows Farm at all, so their decision to work with Honeycomb felt like a natural extension of the farm’s mission.
Blackberry Meadows Farm has had a successful community-supported agriculture program since the late 1980s, which is a system where the community will buy shares of a farm’s products, or pre-order as a subscription. Members of the community essentially buy into the farm, providing the capital needed to get production going as well as deepening their relationship with the farm and the farmers.
“When we bought our farm, we found that 80, 90 percent of the customers were in it for the long haul,” says Greg. “They really wanted to have organic food in their neighborhood. And we were the source for it.”
But, Blackberry Meadows Farm’s connection with the community is far from just transactional. People come to the farm to help out, connect with the earth, and see where their food comes from.
“We’ll have eight cars in the driveway, and only one person on staff,” says Greg. “It's great to have people who just come over, they bring their kids to learn about farming. You know, we're opening up a whole new world.”
So, it felt natural to Greg and Jen to look to Honeycomb to help fund their outdoor Airbnb operations to expand the agritourism side of the business.
“We love the community approach to business [at Honeycomb],” says Greg.
By offering up the chance to invest in this project on the farm, Blackberry Meadows Farm was able to not only raise the capital they needed, but also deepen their relationship with their community. The investors, in turn, were able to support a business they’ve come to rely upon as well as build on their own wealth.
The community has gone above and beyond for Blackberry Meadows Farm, including getting involved with the canvas cabins - and not just by investing in them! Several of Greg and Jen’s neighbors brought them some old wood-burning stoves to help heat the cabins, which will allow Blackberry Meadows Farm to host guests even in the cooler months.
“That's what keeps us going,” says Greg. “I can't imagine what we’d do without the folks who are farm supporters, and now the investors as well.”
Looking toward future growth
Farm stays are an important part of Blackberry Meadows Farm’s operations because they allow visitors a deeper understanding of life on the farm.
“We are transparent to the customers at the farmers market, and the AirBnB allows us to give people a backstage pass,” says Greg. “You just don’t get what pig raising is like by reading Charlotte’s Web until you come out to the farm.”
The canvas cabins will not only allow Blackberry Meadows Farm to continue offering farm stays, but will be a much-needed asset to expanding their other agritourism offerings. Ideally, Greg and Jen want to use the outdoor Airbnb not only for individual guests but also for events like company retreats, weddings, or anything else imaginable.
The agritourism aspect of Blackberry Meadows Farm is not just another income stream, it also connects to their greater mission of democratizing the local food movement and making it more accessible for people of all income levels.
Greg and Jen see their outdoor Airbnb as a way of bringing agritourism to a more accessible level. They see their “hillbilly resort” as more than a spa-like experience that glamping companies might offer.
“The reason for the farm kitsch is because it’s really being farm frugal. You know, we like to reuse stuff in creative ways. We're not trying to be aesthetic, we're trying to be functional,” explains Greg. “So, we'd rather stay with that vibe, where people can come up and they can feel comfortable asking us questions and just engaging with us here on the farm. They can see all the food being grown, stay overnight, get as much privacy as they want, and then go on their way.”
So, Blackberry Meadows Farm plans to offer multiple pricing options for different amenities at the Airbnb to fit all kinds of budgets. They hope to be able to attract people who might otherwise be put off by local food, thinking it’s too expensive, unattainable, and not for them.
“It’s very typical of the local food movement, where a hamburger can cost from $16-20 from a local farm and we're not there, not everybody lives at that level,” says Greg. “And it's not going to be long before people are back to fast food lifestyles. So we would much rather hit the fast food crowd than hit the gourmet crowd. We hope that the kind of branding that we're thinking about will bring 'glamping' down to the people's level.”
This will also help market the farm stay Airbnb to travelers of all different kinds - whether it’s just travelers looking for a cheap place to stay overnight or city dwellers looking for a back-to-nature experience.
Greg and Jen are very excited to start inviting visitors to stay on Blackberry Meadows Farm, whether in the new canvas cabin outdoor Airbnb set-up or in their farmhouse Airbnb. You can learn more about staying on the farm here and find them on Airbnb, and learn more about their business online. If you’re a Yinzer, you can swing by the Squirrel Hill, Mount Lebanon, and Northside farmers markets, or head on out to the farm to pick up orders from their store.
Local funds from local friends
If, like Blackberry Meadows Farm, your business relies on deep community ties, why not use those connections to build up both your business and your community?
Honeycomb crowdfunded loans allow businesses like farms to diversify their income streams by incorporating glamping, farm stays, herbal tea operations, value-added products, and so much more, funded by the community that loves them.
To learn more about Honeycomb crowdfunded loans for small businesses, head to https://www.honeycombcredit.com/grow
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