The Impact of Agritourism on Rural Communities

Many people are familiar with Agritourism in the form of seasonal U-Pick fruit farms, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hay rides, petting zoos and winery, brewery and bourbon tours. Or you may think of visiting states like Hawaii, California and Georgia for local favorites like pineapples, coffee, wine, peaches and pecans. Those are indeed all examples of Agritourism, but they only scratch the surface of this important economic engine for some rural communities.

The travel industry is America's seventh-largest employer -- supporting 15.6 million jobs. In honor of National Travel and Tourism Week, held annually the first full week of May, we're shining a spotlight on how rural tourism has a big impact on farm families and communities.

The number of North Carolina farms welcoming visitors has skyrocketed in the last 10 years -- increasing 89%! According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, "the diversity of Agritourism-related activities has increased…today's farmers also are offering weekend farm stays, weaving workshops and even goat yoga to entice visitors to their farms."

The number of farms that grossed over $25,000 or more from rural tourism activities grew from 3,637 farms in 2007 to 4,518 farms in 2012 as cited by the U.S. Census of Agriculture. This revenue not only helps the farmers and ranchers that directly benefit from it, but the money also helps the rural communities where there may not be other opportunities for drawing in tourists.

In some cases those Agritourism activities have developed out of necessity with farmers and ranchers seeking supplemental income. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture points to many farmers who have decreased or quit producing tobacco altogether. Today many of those former tobacco farmers are operating bed and breakfasts or hosting weddings on the farm.

Many Agritourists enjoy camping, hunting, picnicking and hiking while touring rural areas. Agritourism, as described by the University of California, can include anything from outdoor recreation and educational experiences to farm stays and entertainment.

You may remember Sandy Couvee from the article A Sensory Experience: Connecting Children to The Farm, in the March/April issue of Pink Tractor. "I have been teaching farm education programs on the farm before it was cool," said Couvee who developed enrichment programs at Chip-In Farm in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Having grown-up on a farm in Connecticut, earning a degree in Environmental Studies, working outdoor education jobs and leading trail crews, Sarah Calhoun embarked on a venture of creating women's work pants. Headquartered in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, the company began the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in a cow pasture just outside of town. In her 2014 TEDx Talk, Calhoun talks about the impact the festival had on this rural community - tripling the county's population for one weekend in July of 2011.

The Montana Governor's office along with the Department of Commerce wrote an economic impact survey for the festival (in 2013) predicting that $2.8 million would change hands - in town and with on-site vendors - during the three-day event.

Agritourism is also a great way to teach people who have never been on a farm before how much hard work and skill it takes to produce locally sourced food. Agritourists learn a lot about sustainability and the importance of buying local as well.

As pointed out by The National Agricultural Law Center, Agritourism presents a variety of different legal issues that farmers, ranchers and landowners should research.

We want to hear from you! Comment below.

What are your favorite Agritourism activities in your community, or as a destination vacation?

Are you a female who runs an Agritourism business? Tell us about it at www.PinkTractor.com/nomiate.

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