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Agricultural tourism in Central California

Updated on September 26, 2012

The Seaview Meadow at Swallow Creek Ranch

Cayucos, California

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Cayucos, CA, USA
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Agricultural tourism has sprouted up within the last two decades and is considered by some as a tool for increasing the viability of family farms and rural communities. It is a form of ecotourism, the key elements of which are: 1) an appreciation of nature, history, and culture; 2) environmental sustainability; 3) supporting the local economy and culture; and 4) education and volunteerism. Agtourism organizations in general aim to maintain agricultural heritage for both locals and visitors. However, its true effects on farms and communities are another matter.

You can understand more about agritourism by visiting such an enterprise and examining these aspects of it: the underlying reasons for farmers and tourist partaking in agtourism; the overall effects on farms, families, rural communities, and visitors; whether the current structure of agtourism is fulfilling the stated goals of agritourism; and if agritourism is preserving the family farm or creating a new type of farm. By examining these areas, the question of the true function of agritourism can be further investigated.

On the spectrum of agritourism, Swallow Creek Ranch is an AGAdventures participant (AGAdventures is a local agritourism organization that is funded by a grant from the Rural Development branch of the USDA and markets small farms and ranches as tourist destinations) that operates further at the family farm end. The 630-acre property lies about a mile up a dirt road off Highway 1 above Cayucos, where the Chumash peoples resided before European settlement. The ranch was a family-run dairy farm from the late 1800's until the 1960s. In 1985 it was purchased by the Waddell family, who has owned and maintained it since.

What makes Swallow Creek Ranch more of a family farm is its attitude towards nature and commercialization. The owner, Duane Waddell, is staunchly against the use of pesticides and hormones and grass-feeds his cattle. He does provide tours of the ranch, but they are free and are mostly for educational purposes; attendees are usually middle school science classes. "We are into ecotourism ourselves and try to get others interested in it and tell people about it," said Waddell.

Besides tending to 60 cattle and running ecotours, the family also holds special events such as weddings and dances that run from $3000-$4000 for 100-250 guests. Swallow Creek also offers ecotours. Features of the ranch include a stream (the namesake of the ranch), a nearby monarch butterfly habitat of eucalyptus trees that is accessible by hike, and a small plant nursery. It also has the aesthetic advantage of proximity to the ocean and a comfortable distance from city life.

The manner in which events are conducted at the ranch reflects the Waddells' small farm values and shows that efforts are concentrated towards cattle farming. Though there is at least one event nearly every weekend in the summertime, the Waddells ensure that they have a "low impact" on cattle farming. Of course, most special events held on the ranch are for profit; Waddell originally renovated the main barn for his daughter's wedding and has since allowed her and her husband to conduct events for supplemental income. Fundraisers for organizations such as the local FFA have been held at Swallow Creek at no cost. Swallow Creek Ranch joined AGAdventures for publicity, but hardly depends on it for business. Advertising of the ranch is at a minimum; people often decide to make arrangements for events after attending one initially. According to Waddell, Swallow Creek attracts half tourists and half locals; income is also divided as so. The ranch does not cater more to one or the other. It certainly does not disrupt the surrounding areas, but merely keeps to itself for the most part.

"We are really into nature and promoting the natural," said Waddell of the way the ranch is run. "Wineries are changing the way everything was before, but we keep things the way they were and leave it alone. We're open to new ideas but we don't want to interfere."

Swallow Creek Ranch seems to avoid following the pattern of commercialization and superficiality that some newer farms and ranches fall into to accommodate tourism; it offers many of the same services as other agtourism participants but with an approach wholly respectful of nature and traditional values. It is a small, family-run ranch that raises a "typical" commodity, cattle, in a completely organic manner. While it does not refuse to consider innovations and newer methods, it refrains from commercial development to the point of encroaching on the efficiency and naturalness of farm operations. At the same time it has proven open to change and warm towards visitors by offering itself as a venue for events, which is something locals can also enjoy yearlong. It seems a main point of being a part of AGAdventures is to identify it as a smaller, local agricultural outfit that is environmentally friendly and still welcomes tourists.


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    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Phillip, that's awesome! I was an RA in Sierra Madre :) You should try to contact him through the Swallow Creek website!

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      Phillip Jenkins 7 years ago

      Aloha, I have slides of Duane Waddell taken when I was visiting him in 1992. I would like to get them to him. Not sure my old address is current. I knew Duane in Sierra Madre when we lived there together. My phone number in Hawaii is 808-967-7655. Please observe the time difference if you call. The best time to get me is between 8 and 9 am any week day morning; Hawaii Time.

      Mahalo Nui Loa,

      Phillip Jenkins

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      Claudia C 7 years ago

      Founded in 1993, Romanian private RURIS is motoequipment producer covering a full range of work needed to microagriculture: chainsaw, Garden tillers, mowing, lawn-mower, pumps, power generators, atomized. Our motto : Low struggle rich result "led us to create products with high reliability, high productivity and easy to handle. Although we have partners who represent us in a significant number of counties, we aim to expand the coverage of products RURIS, nationwide. With each year, increase the classification of products to cover the entire range of equipment needed in every household. Experience over 15 years, and its network of authorized service units, guarantee our customers quality products and services offered by RURIS.

      Contact: SC RURIS IMPEX SRL, Romania, Craiova, tel: +40351.46.46.32,

    • jacobworld profile image

      Jakub Wawrzyniak 9 years ago from Ireland

      Nice one mate