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Passion and planning drive an eco-tourism farm business

5.5 min read

Khurram and Maryam Farooq have always been inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Khurram, who goes by Farooq, says that sentiment has ingrained itself in every aspect of their lives and business: obstacles, challenges and setbacks occur, but there’s always a way forward.

Situated on the picturesque shores of Georgian Bay, Ont., their goat farm and agri-tourism venture, Farm on the Lake, is a testament to the Farooqs’ innovation and determination.

Over the past decade, they’ve not only raised their children and built their business, but also meticulously planned each step of their journey as a team.

From passion to reality

Despite having no prior experience in farming, the couple shared a deep passion for the agricultural lifestyle and its business prospects. “Our journey into farming stemmed from a deep-seated love for it, a passion I’ve held since my youth and shared with my wife,” Farooq says.

While their careers initially led them to the Greater Toronto Area, Maryam and Farooq had their sights set on a rural location. They planned to finance the move by selling their urban home. However, their first challenge was finding the right farm. Their initial choice fell through at the last moment, leaving them disheartened and concerned that they might never find the perfect spot.

“A friend told me, ‘A better one is just around the corner,’ and I’ve never forgotten that,” Farooq says. “We kept searching, and eventually, found a stunning 200-acre property by the lake in the Peninsula area. This location was unique and perfect for us.”

Invest in dreams, and have a plan

Investing everything into purchasing the farm, they approached each challenge with a blend of passion and pragmatism. “We were starting from scratch,” Farooq says. “I still remember the first day we had to cut down a couple of trees blocking our path and we couldn’t afford a chainsaw, so I had to cut the tree with a regular saw.”

Their business model wasn’t just about farming; it was about creating a sustainable, self-sufficient enterprise.

Their business model wasn’t just about farming; it was about creating a sustainable, self-sufficient enterprise. They knew that they had to establish a value-added agricultural business quickly to balance their books, but even after securing the land, the couple had yet to decide what to produce. So they researched extensively, spoke with producers and made visits to local producer group meetings. They considered various options, from lavender crops to elk farming.

Eventually, goats emerged as the ideal fit for their property, especially after connecting with a producer in Quebec promoting Savannah goat doelings as breeding stock.

“We just fell in love,” Farooq says. “His entire operation was amazing.” Envisioning themselves in a similar operation, the couple saw a fit for their aptitudes and room to grow. With a plan in place, a mentor to guide them and goats on the way, they spent months preparing their property and conducting extensive research.

Embrace the power of education

“Back then, YouTube had just started, so it wasn’t as extensive as it is today where you can watch video after video. Maryam bought books,” Farooq says. From their first winter with frozen water to their initial kidding season, they earned their education in goat farming.

They rose to the challenge and soon had a strong demand for their breeding stock goats, building a solid reputation for their business. At any given time, they now have up to 600 goats on the farm and eager buyers. But they didn’t rest on their laurels.

Lean into opportunities

With their farm in the middle of a tourist-friendly area, the couple noted more and more passersby pausing along the roadway to take in the vista of their goats enjoying their outdoor pens. “At first, it was a couple, then ten, then twenty, and that’s when I realized, ‘I think we have something here,’” Farooq says. “When you’re doing something you love, you don’t even know what other people think about it.”

They introduced an automated, self-serve system that allowed visitors to interact with the goats at their convenience – and without interrupting daily farm work. Word of mouth, social media and enthusiastic visitors helped spread the word, drawing more people to the farm to feed the goats, visit with the kids and take in the gift shop offerings.

Diversify and grow what works

Their innovative approach eventually extended to a virtual feeding platform that allows people to view a live feed of the goats and click a button to automatically feed them, live on camera. They now boast nearly 5,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel – a development that capitalized on Farooq’s background in computer science and information technology.

Building on this success, they’ve diversified into agri-tourism and lakeside camping, offering unique experiences like kayaking and comfortable accommodations, and are attracting city dwellers looking for a countryside retreat.

As their business continues to grow, the Farooqs remain committed to creating low-maintenance, self-sufficient attractions that keep their farm and family life thriving and moving forward. “We love the farming experience, but it has to pay for itself,” Farooq says. “Looking back at this adventure of the last ten years, it was worth every penny, every ache. You just can’t ever give up.”

Ignite your own creative innovations

Passion + experience = creative innovations

The Farooqs transformed their career backgrounds, passion for farming and zest for innovation into a successful agricultural venture, despite having no prior farming experience. They worked their own expertise and aptitudes into their unique business model, even as it moved into uncharted territory. Explore how your passions can ignite creative innovations to enhance efficiency and profitability in your own journey.

Diversify with confidence, adapt to positive changes

Diversifying offerings and income streams has been key to growing Farm on the Lake. Be willing to adapt to changing circumstances and market demands. Explore new avenues to add value and broaden your customer base.

Notice your customers’ needs, and enthusiastically deliver

The Farooqs’ success was driven by their commitment to providing exceptional experiences for their visitors. They adeptly integrated innovative solutions and technology to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their customers, ensuring added value and sustainability in their farming operations. Reflect on how adopting a similar customer-focused strategy and technological integration could transform your business interactions and drive success.

Plan strategically, always

Success isn’t just about passion. It’s about strategic planning, understanding market trends and applying business acumen. Whether you’re transitioning from a different career or starting fresh, the key is to approach farming with a robust business plan, backed by thorough research and a willingness to adapt to evolving market needs.

From an AgriSuccess article by Emily Leeson.