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Agritourism - Close Up and Personal with Food

Agritourism - Close Up and Personal with Food

Like other businesses and industries, the nation’s agritourism locations are slowly shaking off the dust from Corona Virus shutdowns and reopening as crops ripen and are ready for the picking. Agritourism describes any activity that is farming related to which visitors come to learn more about crops or the agriculture lifestyle or simply to relax in a rural environment. Agritourism also includes shopping for fresh produce, honey, maple syrup, and a whole list of products made on site at any of the nation’s farming communities.

If the local You-Pick enterprise comes to mind, that is only one of the types of opportunities offered to travelers and guests. When you stop at that roadside produce stand, you are supporting agritourism. If you visit a vineyard or winery, that too is part of the activities that make up the agritourism enterprise. Other examples are outdoor recreation, harvest festivals, and farm or dude ranch stays.

The University of California’s Small Farm Program provided a list of examples of agritourism activities across several categories. In Outdoor Recreation, activities such as horseback riding, wildlife viewing and photography, fee fishing or hunting, camping or picnicking, wagon r winter sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, clay bird shooting, and off-roading are included in the agritourism definition. As long as activities occurs on a working farm or ranch, it meets the definition.

Agritourism also extends into the field of education. This is not just limited to school field trips or workshops. It also includes garden tours, winery tours, microbrewery tours, historical agriculture exhibits, and exotic animal farms. For example, tours are offered at bison ranches and alpaca farms, as well as working dairy barns and farm-based summer camps for kids.

So which category of agritourism is right for you? Ask yourself what do I want from the experience? Here are some of your choices:

  • Where Food Comes From

This is a growing (pun intended) sentiment among the public. A trip to an orchard or pumpkin patch in the fall, blueberry picking in the summer, foraging for mushrooms, and catching pond-raised trout are some of the examples that put people in touch with their food gathering and growing ancestors.

Offshoots of this experience include an interest in butchering experiences where participants pay a fee to get a course on the techniques used to harvest and dress poultry or livestock. This is part of the overall “farm to fork” philosophy that is a popular trend in culinary experiences.

While farm tours are common in almost every state, you are most likely to find them in areas of the nation focused on agriculture. Farm tours can include an extended stay on the property, opportunities to milk cows or do other chores, or can simply be a walking or wagon tour of farming operations. These tours acquaint guests with how farms produce the crops and animal products that eventually find their way to our tables.

A simple search online can point you in the right direction for these operations. Other potential sources of leads in any given area are the local Chambers of Commerce, the Extension Service offices and farmer’s markets.

  • Sharpening the make it at home skills

DIY is a trendy and often financially savvy approach to all things in life, and especially the foods we consume. When we know the ingredients that are going into cheese, wine, candies, honey and other foods, we can be more confident in serving these to our families.

People have been making libations of a spirited nature for eons. Learning wine making skills can add a new dimension to your visit to wine country. Typically, these workshops are offered by vineyards and wineries. The contents of the classes can be simply the basics or can be open to multi-level learning. Other opportunities advertise the experience of crafting your own bottle of wine, from preparing the grapes to creating a personalized DIY vintage.

Cheese making is another farm product that is common in most households, and maybe even considered a staple. If cheese is your passion, you can learn to make it yourself at workshops and special events. Classes at small farms can include a Bed and Breakfast experience, or you can opt for a one- or two-day workshop. Some classes give participants a start to finish experience, from milking the cows to slicing and enjoying the finished mozzarella, cheddar or any of the other tasty cheeses.

You can find these weekend events or workshops on social media, online or through state agriculture offices and tourist bureaus. Many of these specialties have national and international directories that maintain a comprehensive list of their members.

  • Everyday Life Experience

If a weekend class is just not enough agriculture experience for you, think about booking a prolonged stay at a working farm, ranch or vineyard. Many of these destinations allow for a technology free respite and hands-on activities to keep you occupied. Access for RVs may be limited on some farms or ranches, so be sure to check beforehand before driving your rig up their drive.

How about learning from the folks who are still practicing a traditional way of life, the Amish? In the sections of the United States that has a large population of the Amish, some of these families open their homestead to those interested in learning more about the simple but effective methods of farming and living off the land. This opportunity is found in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, although communities of Amish live in other areas as well.

Organizations like Harvest Hosts offer RVers especially a chance to stay on a farm. The camping is no frills boondocking, but the locations vary from farms to other agricultural venues. But farm stays don’t have to be about doing without. Look for ways to interact with farm families without giving up electric, water and WIFI.

Bring out your inner cowhand by signing up for a dude ranch vacation. These are often working cattle ranches and provide a glimpse into life on the range. Sorting cattle, riding trails and doing other ranch chores are part of the experience as is the communal meals and striking scenery. Experience is not necessary as those taking part will learn what they need while having fun.

When its time for a change from RV parks, amusement parks, even museums and fine dining, consider getting a little more personal with your food. Embarking on a hay ride at a farm, navigating through a corn maze, or riding a horse on the fence line looking for breaks will make memories and raise awareness of the food cycle. Appreciation for the food, the process and the hard work it takes to bring us the ingredients for our favorite meal is the reward.

Jul 20th 2020 Lois Tomaszewski

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