Over a decade after he initiated farm-stays in Punjabs Hoshiarpur district, agriculturist-entrepreneur Harkirtat Singh believes agri-tourism needs a further boost so that people from urbanised areas get a feel of rural life — and stressed farmers get another source of income.
“What seems like a very glamorous business actually involves a lot of training and day-to-day planning. It is not that you set up a facility and then it is streamlined for a long time. Every day is a challenge in a farm-stay enterprise. The needs of the guests have to be catered to and they have to be given a fresh taste of things that are part of rural life,” Harkirat told IANS at his “Citrus County” farm, around 140 km from Chandigarh.
Having started on a small scale in 2007, Harkirat has not only expanded his own venture but is all set to provide consultancy and even a franchise model for other agriculturists to get into this entrepreneurial sector. He set up his second project, “Basera — By the Tirthana”, in Kullu district of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh last year.
“Farming in itself may not be viable for most people. It is always better to set up an alternative source of income from the existing resources that farmers have. With their fast-paced and stressful lives in cities, people want to de-stress themselves in such rural and raw settings,” said Harkirat, who has been an agriculturist since his teenager days and lives at his farm in Chhauni village near Hoshiarpur.
Harkirat, whose family has been involved in growing kinnows (a citrus fruit like the orange) and forestry for a number of decades, has been a trendsetter among agriculturists in “Green Revolution” state Punjab by tapping into the entrepreneurial side. The Punjab Tourism Department has been highlighting his farm-stay project while marketing tourism in the state.
“I advise other entrepreneurs about every aspect of the business: Staffing, accommodation, furniture, construction, marketing, activities, dealing with all types of guests and the basic training of the staff. My years in this line have taught me to deal with almost every eventuality — be it on the business side or a crisis with a guest,” Harkirat pointed out, while detailing his consultancy and franchise model.
Harkirat, who holds a master’s degree in mass communication from Panjab University, Chandigarh, and is popularly known as the “Farm-stay Man” among friends and guests, runs “Citrus County” along with his wife Jasveen and is now setting up a nature wellness centre in the foothills of the Shivalik range, along the Punjab-Himachal border.
“It was a vision, a dream — and the gumption to make it all come true” that drove Harkirat to venture into the untapped field of agri-tourism in a small village. “The project that began 10 years back has now grown by leaps and bounds and caters to visitors from all over India and abroad,” Jasveen, who trained to be a dental surgeon but is now fully involved with the farm-stay project, told IANS.
At their farm-stay, guests get to try their hand at how farming is actually done in the agrarian state. They can sow, pluck fruits, plough the fields, milk cows, drive a tractor and take a ride to a nearby forest and rivulet in a tractor-trolley.
“Guests and their children are given the experience of being a farmer over the weekend or during holidays. Fresh, home-cooked food, which is prepared on earthen stoves, home-grown organic vegetables and warm hospitality add up in equal measure to make the experience a refreshing one,” Harkirat said.
“Glamping”, or luxury tenting, as Harkirat puts it, is also part of the farm experience in their nine air-conditioned tents.
Punjab is known as India’s breadbasket where the “Green Revolution” in agriculture began in the 1960s. Harkirat is adding a new facet to farming in the state.
Originally published on SME Times India