Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Va. farms embrace agritourism, which is growing
The Parrish Pumpkin Patch in southern Virginia. (Parrish Farm photo)
Who doesn't love a visit to the farm? From pumpkin patches and hayrides to U-Pick-Em strawberries and wine tastings, there's something for everyone -- and savvy farmers know they can bring in extra revenue by hosting such events. "Farmers searching for ways to diversify their portfolios have added tourism to the mix as a way to bring in new business and new exposure to the industry. Agritourism now has several trends going for it: the growth of the experience economy and the popularity of farm-to-table foods, leading to a renewed interest in where food comes from," Tiffany Holland reports for The Roanoke Times.

Agritourism has become a big moneymaker over the past 10 years in Virginia, according to a study published in April by the Pamplin School of Business at Virginia Tech. It looked at the financial impact of agritourism in the state, and found that visitors to the state's more than 1,400 agritourism destinations spent about $1.5 billion in 2015 alone. "In total, agritourism accounts for about $2.2 billion in economic activity and it’s growing. The most growth for agritourism venues has been from 2010 to the present, with more than one-third of the venues opening in the past seven years," Holland reports.

State agencies have published materials to help guide farmers who want to get in on the trend. And rural counties are embracing it, even hiring coordinators to see to the industry. Big events such as tractor pulls or festivals can bring in profit to the whole community. And farmers who offer agritourism destinations say they love giving city dwellers the opportunity to learn more about farming and where their food comes from. Holland writes that "Carolyn Reilly, who opened Four Corners Farm in 2011 in Franklin County, said she and her husband offer farm tours to expose people to farming and show the public where the food comes from, in addition to making a living at it."

There are a few downsides to agritourism. it tends to be dependent on weather, so a festival getting rained out can cost a community thousands of dollars in lost income. Safety and liability are also a concern for farmers, as well as zoning issues and local ordinances. In short, the grape-picking expedition might get rained out, the on-site wine tasting bar at the vineyard might not be allowed, and the farmer might need to buy extra insurance in case a tourist gets hurt. But many farmers believe the promise of extra income in an increasingly cash-strapped industry is often worth the trouble.

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