What is Agritourism?

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“Farm”, a word that goes hand-in-hand with the term “rural”. Farming is often the basis for a rural community’s existence. Farming supports the community and the community supports the farmer. But so often, when we look at tourism to improve the economic development of a community, the word “farm” is not in the conversation. However, there is a term that is growing in popularity that brings the farm into the conversation when discussing tourism opportunities. The term is Agritourism. It’s not new, and you’ve probably heard it before. But have you really considered it in relation to your community?

Agritourism Defined

As defined by the American Planning Association, “the terms agricultural tourism or agritourism are commonly used to describe any activity incidental to the operation of a farm that brings members of the public to the farm for educational, recreational, or retail purposes.

Farming isn’t easy. I often joke that farmers are never Goldilocks. Rural areas are often impacted by some extreme during a growing season. Flooding, droughts, straight-line winds, or tornadoes are often affecting conditions for farmers’ crops. Even when everything is “just right”, it is “just right” for many other farmers as well. So the prices paid for crops then trend downward due to over-supply.

Diversification for Sustainability

Much like in the development of a sound retirement portfolio, the term “diversification” is starting to gain traction with many farmers. This has already been done for centuries with livestock. But livestock is volatile as well and the profit margin for many farmers is unbearably tight.

Local Honey Sales

Farmers are looking at different ways to diversify. There are a number of ways through agritourism that farmers can derive a side profit that can also help their nearby community. One common use is retail sales of a product other than the main crop raised out in the fields. This may be another type of food product like honey, crafts, or other sellable product that is sold at the farm. There are educational or recreational uses that can include classes on farm-related activities, farm tours, bed and breakfasts, corn mazes, harvest festivals, and other interactive activities. Some farms are used for weddings, private parties, or other gatherings that provide a venue outside of the norm for those attending.

Although I live on the fringe of a suburban community, I actually live near a prime example of agritourism. The Bellevue Berry Farm has evolved over the years and is a shining example of agritourism as the primary use. Weddings and receptions are held in a rustically decorated “barn”. Every fall is full of pumpkin picking, hayrack rides, bonfires, and a variety of activities for kids. During the summer, they host a “taco ride” that local bikers ride in to eat tacos, have a few lavations while hanging out with other bicyclists listening to a band, and ride back home.

How to Support Agritourism

As always, it is important to remember that your local economy is an interconnected web of businesses that support each other. Fostering the new agritourism development can have positive impacts on a number of support sectors in your economy. The hospitality and restaurant sectors will benefit the most, but other retail and service sectors can see rollover benefits as well. Hence it is important to build support for agritourism throughout the business community. Campaign for cross-promotion to foster this rollover impact upon the rest of your local economy.

One way to support agritourism at the government level is to incorporate goals, objectives, policies, and/or action items within your comprehensive plan that specifically address agritourism. The comprehensive plan should speak to the importance of agritourism to strengthening the agricultural sector of the local economy. But the plan should also discuss how the use can support industries like hospitality, retail, and restaurants.

Zoning Adjustments

It is also important to provide enough flexibility in your regulations to allow for it without potential hiccups. Most zoning regulations prohibit activities that are undefined uses in the zoning ordinance. So make sure the zoning ordinance specifically addresses agritourism with a definition that provides some flexibility for the variety of agritourism uses.

Pumpkin Patch

Many regulations list “agritourism” as use that is accessory to the primary use. Typically, this is followed with specific regulations on that use in the supplemental regulations that address the various types of agritourism and the potential impacts on surrounding properties. Remember, there may be some impacts to the rural character of the area if the agritourism use becomes too big. Keep that in mind when adjusting your regulations as well.

Some regulations specifically call out certain types of agritourism. The regulations then require these uses to receive approval through a special use or conditional use permit. This allows the community some leverage to limit any negative impacts of that specific type of agritourism. Conditions listed within the permit may address maximum facility sizes, parking, signage, noise, nuisances, and hours of operation.

Further Reading

For additional insight on Agritourism, check out the Agritourism Study report for Montgomery County, Maryland. It is a detailed and well-written study about the potential impacts of agritourism in that part of the country. The study is a great read on the potential of agritourism. But it also speaks to the protections and other considerations that should be considered when encouraging its growth in and around your community.

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  1. Pingback: Planning and Zoning for Agritourism - Rural Resurrection

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