Agritourism: Where the farm and vacationers meet

More farmers and ranchers are now adding Earth Day, visitor-friendly activities as a way of creating new revenue.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 22, 2013 7:25AM

Ranch in Colorado ( Don Grall/Photolibrary/Getty Images)As folks everywhere celebrate Earth Day today, many of them are looking for new ways to get closer to nature. And as winter finally winds down, many states are polishing up their financially important tourism programs to welcome domestic and international visitors. At the moment, the U.S. travel industry is one of the nation's strongest business sectors, now employing 7.7 million people.

Rural America is looking for a piece of that action while tapping the growing desire among vacationers for an authentic connection to the natural world. That's leading a growing number of agricultural producers to consider agritourism as a new source of revenue to not only attract the legion of TV program-inspired "foodies" searching for a locavore culinary experience but also the educated and upwardly mobile tourists looking for a new adventure. People want to know more about where their food comes from and how it's produced.

Agritourism "is the crossroads of tourism and agriculture," writes Missouri-based marketing professional Jane Eckert on her website, "when the public visits working farms, ranches or wineries to buy products, enjoy entertainment, participate in activities, shop in a country store, eat a meal or make overnight stays."

According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, more than 23,000 farms provided some form of agritourism and recreation to visitors, with those services valued at $566 million.

Eckert says agritourism can be a lifesaver to smaller agricultural operations, which face stiff economic challenges from larger, corporate farms as well as overseas competition.

"Their earnings on commodities and livestock may not even cover production costs," she notes. "But farmers who sell directly to the public -- through fruit stands and farm country stores -- and also add special activities for visitors, find they can continue farming and make a profit."

Some agritourism has been around for decades, including such venues as dude ranches in Wyoming, dairies selling cheese directly to visitors in Vermont and the famous wine tours in California's Napa Valley. But other states are trying to expand on the concept.

Colorado just announced a three-year "action plan" to expand the state's agritourism industry. Laura Grey, heritage and agritourism program manager for the Colorado Tourism Office, said state officials have held 10 meetings on the issue across the state, meeting with hundreds of farmers and ranchers and asking them to bring their own specialties and interests to the table.

As an example, she described a farmer on Colorado's eastern plains who likes to refurbish old windmills. "So that's his personal passion," Grey noted. "He also has a wind farm on this property, so he can talk about the new wind age versus what windmills used to do. He's fourth generation; the information he has inside of him, people want to know."

Both state officials and producers in Colorado hope a diversity of agritourism activities will bring new visitors, and new funding, to all corners of the state.

"Agritourism is becoming a very important tool for rural economic development," said Dan Hobbs with the Hobbs Family Farm in a tourism office press release. "Farm and ranch families will discover new opportunities to become profitable and develop important new allies."

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Apr 22, 2013 3:45PM
Most Americans don't have the slightest idea of where their food really comes from.  I had a guy tell me once that he didn't need farmers, he bought his food at the grocery store. I think that agritourism is a win/win for everyone, especially those who are able to buy truly fresh produce. Sweet corn cooked and eaten within an hour of pulling it is beyond description. If you think canned peas are even close to reality, you are in for a pleasant surprise. And just about everyone goes bonkers over fresh, home grown tomatoes.  The variety of produce available at the grocery is great but it comes at a price and that price is flavor. Things are picked weeks ahead of being naturally ripened and taste like cardboard.
Apr 22, 2013 5:07PM
My wife and I have a pick your own berry farm - is that agri-tourism?   At least after years of doing this, I am no longer shocked by people being shocked that strawberries grow on the ground.  I still get a smile from it, but I'm not shocked  :)      

You think I could convince people to pay me for the 'experience' of weeding?
Apr 22, 2013 8:08PM
My hairdresser asked me if ham was pork...really....
Apr 23, 2013 9:07AM

Most or many animals on farms are taken care of better, then in the City..

The Farmer's livelyhood depends on it..

Then someone spots an old skinny horse, cow or other that looks bad...

Not mistreated, just kept on as a pet.....And they are VERY OLD, by most standards..


Now if we can ONLY get the CARING city and town people....To QUIT dropping off there dogs and cats that are Un-WANTED on our road !!

We spend more on PETFOOD, than we do ourselves.

Apr 22, 2013 8:41PM

Hayrides..Used to be a nice getaway, and we have done it for friends..

But introduce your friends or family to putting up hay, and that is a whole other story..

The last hayride we were on, was at a Resort Seminar...Some had never been.


Going out and getting your own tree at Christmas, by wagon or pony is fun too.

We used to do it when our kids were little, until our trees were big enough, we planted windbreaks.

Would take the pony out about 1/4 mile and cut one, back in the brush....Good times. 10 years.

Every family, if given the chance should do that at least once.


The berry picking thing mentioned is fun too,a small group can pick a lot of berries in a short time. 

I did not grow up on a farm (dairy farms around here), but I worked for several years on one in high school.  I remember a lot of hard physical labor, I can't imagine any of these tourists lasting a full day on the farm (we started milking at 5:00 AM, and usually finished the day around 7:00-9:00 PM).
Apr 23, 2013 9:10AM

Hope no one gets turned into the Baker/Bread Lover's Associations...


For beating, pounding or punching up Bread Dough...?

Apr 25, 2013 7:30AM
I think a common problem in all farm country is the "CONCEPTION" that farmers abuse their animals.  What looks like abuse to a "city-slicker" may very well be the only way the farmer can deal with a certain animal--they do have personalities and some of them are not so pleasant!  And, we all have "pets" that we love and keep around until they die naturally--yes, they are skinny and move slow, but have you looked in your neighborhood lately--how about that old lady or man that lives down the street--they are skinny and can't move, but we don't "put them down" and we as farmers are the same way--these animals have become our families--we live with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week--we can't just "put them down" to make the Public happy.  Think about when you were growing up--didn't you get a spanking on the butt when you tested the patience of your parents--well, sometimes that is what is going on at the farm too--those cows are our livelihood--we are not going to mis-treat them--that is counter productive.  There are people  who believe that milking a cow/goat/sheep is cruel--well, look at that human mother that just gave birth and has become engorged with milk--ask her if it would be cruel to "milk" some of that pressure off--I'm sure she'd tell you it would be a relief--well, it's the same with that cow--milking is a relief for them--and for the most part they LOVE their farmer for it!!  I'm not saying that EVERY farmer is perfect, because even I as a farmer know that's not true, but those that are cruel are the MINORITY--I often joke that I need to paint myself black and white so I get noticed!  My husband spends more time pampering and loving those cows then me sometimes--am I jealous--well, there are times, but I also know that it where my bread is buttered and it's our life!  Come live our life for a week--it would certainly change the tone in the grocery store--and Wally World would have to learn to Compete with us!  Now wouldn't that be FUN!!!
Apr 24, 2013 12:22AM
Tn. just passed in their House & Senate a bill that requires anyone photographing "animal abuse" to report & send their photos within 24 hrs to the  Sheriff Dept. Now we will expect idiots reporting ducks ready to drown in the pond! Cows graze in the swamps in the South...the Tn Gov. is  probably gonna sign the bill this week. This is insane!!!! Do I have the right to check for cameras, and do I get to collect the airlines do weapons???? My farm has long major hiway frontage, I do agribusiness. Well, I did...The average visitor knows nothing about farm life, or animals! And these will be the "experts" making headlines...a mooing cow sounds like she's's cruel to sheer a's horrible to cut the feet on a's horrible to make chickens s. out an egg...esp.from their a..NO! they'll never get their food from a nasty farm...they're all gonna go to Wally World and buy their food. Humm...I haven't seen any farm products being grown behind the store...or any pastures...barns...
Apr 23, 2013 6:58AM
But in Indiana, they are trying to pass laws so photos can't be taken on farm land.  They are afraid they will be caught committing animal abuse.  I know several farms that sell their own products, however, & don't mind people seeing how their produce is grown or their animals are treated.  I commented on one of the discussions, that as a consumer - I have the RIGHT to know where my food comes from & how it is raised.  My husband works at a bread factory & they record EVERYTHING that is done to the food.
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