Agritourism is Good for You
In 2017, Virginia Tech, released an economic impact study that found that for the year 2015 Agritourism added $2.2 billion dollars to the state's economy. That's a lot of carrots. But the truth is, although farmers markets and the local food trend continue to grow (again in 2019), many decision makers and the public at large are unfamiliar with what “agri-tourism” and its other associated terms such as “agritainment”, “value added products”, “farm direct marketing: and “sustainable agriculture” actually encompass.
So what is agritourism or agri-tourism?
At its most basic level it’s the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities. Virginia Tech defines it this way:
“Any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, wineries, ranching, historical, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity.” (Code of Virginia § 3.2-6400).
However, it is not limited to rural areas and in many cases urban farms are a huge draw because they are easy to access and can offer certain amenities. In Florida, craft beverage production of beer, wine, cider and spirits fall under “cottage laws” which are overseen by our Agricultural Commissioner. Meat production including poultry and even aquaculture and aquaponics fall under this category as well.
Although the majority of our food producers are not open to the public, the ones that are oftentimes have an extensive array of what are termed “value added offerings” such as food trucks on site, kids activities and live music. A trip to a local farm can include tours, educational activities, even yoga with goats!
And the benefit of these types of offerings goes well beyond the economic impact. Visiting a farm is a way to connect with your food, become an educated consumer and meet the people responsible for bringing that food to market. Getting up close and personal with producers gives them the opportunity to share their passion, creating the possibility of ushering in a new generation of enthusiasts. Add to that the many benefits of food that has less distance to travel, from adding less carbon into the atmosphere to the fact that fresh produce starts to lose nutrients as soon as it’s picked and your are looking at far reaching consequences.
When searching for agritourism offerings near you, check with your local extension office. Many times, they will have lists of farms and even classes being offered. The county or city Chamber of Commerce most likely has a list of farmers markets in your area and you can check with the Tourism Bureau for local breweries and distilleries. In some locales there are maps, apps and websites that have gathered together the local producers under one heading, such as Eat Local Lee in Lee County, Florida (www.eatlocallee.org).
Two websites may also proves helpful, though they both leave it up to the producers to list themselves. LocalHarvest.org has been around the longest and has the most listings. And Agrilicious.com is a newer version with flashy graphics and numerous advertisers.
Whichever route you take to find your way to your local agritourism outlets, you’ll no doubt enjoy the experience.