Agritourism: Getting Back to the Roots on Small Farms
Agritourism, a new crop of tourism, is sprouting in the country.
Hayrides are fun for children of all ages, whether from the country or the city.
Ten years ago, Scottie Jones had enough of big-city life, and had never heard of agritourism. She and her husband packed their bags and left Phoenix. Their escape plan: buy land in rural Oregon. Sounds simple, right?
“The city became too crowded; there was traffic and asphalt everywhere we looked,” she says. “But boy, were we naive!”
The couple bought a homestead built in 1896, surrounded by 54 acres of lush green hills. “It was an adventure, to say the least,” she says. “We were completely wowed by the entire process. While it was hard work, it was also down-to-earth work.”
And she means that literally. Flash forward: In addition to growing hay and raising sheep for market, Jones now runs a successful farm-stay program at her Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, northwest of Eugene.
Guests travel from as far away as New York and Texas to stay on the farm for anywhere from a few days to an entire week. “I just had a mother and daughter out for the weekend,” she says. “They picked food from the garden and helped collect eggs from the coop.”
But is it all work and no play? According to Jones, the trip can be as hands-on or as laid-back as a guest desires. “Sometimes people come out just to slow down and retreat,” she says, “to get away from the hustle and bustle … and maybe pick some blackberries.”
Scottie Jones is part of a growing movement of farmers looking to supplement their earnings. “In today’s world, 10 percent of the nation’s farms produce 90 percent of the food. How are small farms supposed to compete?” she says. In Jones’ case, nearly half of the farm’s income comes from agritourism, making it a vital segment of their livelihood.
Luckily, many farmers have found this new niche labeled “agritourism.” These rural land owners are drawing in visitors with their farm-related activities and retreats. They’ve developed myriad successful crowd-pleasers, ranging from dairy tours to “U-Pick” operations to farm stays like Jones’ program. In California alone, farmers and ranchers hosted more than 2.4 million agriculture tourists in 2008, according to a study by University of California researchers. In New York, Assemblyman Steve Englebright says agritourism is second only to milk as a source of income for farmers in the state.
Jones says the reason for the growth is simple: More people are interested in how and where their food is grown. “We’ve seen a huge influx of farmers’ markets across the country,” she says. “People enjoy buying local products and helping to support local economies.”
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