Agritourism is a term that has come to describe any sort of tourist activity related to agriculture. These days on a family vacation you might visit a local farmers’ market, tour a winery, pick strawberries in a farmer’s field, or learn how chocolate is grown. Some travelers take the experience a step further and actually stay and work on family farms for days or weeks at a time. As small family farms look to innovative ways to grow their businesses, adding some sort of agritourism to the mix is becoming increasingly attractive.
Some states in the U.S. are taking proactive steps to encourage the growth of agritourism. Colorado has implemented a plan that includes a full-time program director for the state’s agritourism sector and is funded by a 10% portion of the interest earned on the state’s unclaimed property fund. The plan calls for statewide roadshows that will provide training to entrepreneurs who are looking to promote agritourism businesses and will teach them how to access state grant funds. With just 679 of the state’s approximately 37,000 farms reporting income from agritourism, there is a huge opportunity for growth.
Seth Roberts, owner of Colorado-based Weathervane Farm, told the Denver Post, “People are wanting that connection with their food source. They want the opportunity to come out and participate in the production of their food. The more people know about food production, the more we as a community will value food and in turn support farmers.” Roberts hosts day visitors to his farm as well as long-term volunteers and interns.
Other states like California and Hawaii have a wide range of agritourism experiences available. On the island of Hawaii, Kahua Farms is doing more than just cattle and sheep ranching. With some 8,500 acres of land and over 10,000 visitors per year, the working ranch offers horseback riding, ATV adventures, and the chance to experience life on a real working ranch. And wineries in California have long understood the power of inviting visitors to experience the making of a product firsthand.
There’s even an online resource, Agritourism World, where you can search a selection of agritourism opportunities available in worldwide. In Kansas alone there are over 300 sites registered for agritourism, and according to Sue Stringer, manager of the agritourism arm of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, there are multiple new requests for permits weekly.
For travelers who want a deeper, more immersive experience, there is the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. Open to anyone 18 years and older, the volunteers, affectionately known as “Woofers,” choose a farm where they would like to work from the registered farms in the system. The volunteers get to learn about organic farming and have a unique experience in rural America in exchange for room and board, and the farmers are supplied with a willing and eager labor force to help grow their businesses. Founded in 1971 by a Londoner who wanted to give city folk a taste of country life, WWOOF is now in 50 countries worldwide helping to spread the knowledge of organic farming methods.
Sustainable America has a two-part goal: to reduce oil usage in America 50% by 2035 while increasing food availability 50% in that same time period. Food that is produced and consumed locally helps to reduce the miles that our food typically travels from farm to plate and increases the amount of fresh, healthy food that is available to a community. Encouraging engagement with local farms and supporting agribusinesses through agritourism is an enjoyable way to move toward a more sustainable America for the future.