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My Focus...

"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Can We Make Agricultural Zoning Work for Us?
By Jane Eckert

As published in the Fruit Grower News & Vegetable Grower News
November 2006

As I travel around North America, I continue to receive more comments and questions regarding the fact that state regulations and local zoning statutes are limiting the farmers and ranchers in their pursuit of many agritourism endeavors.

I am now getting at least one inquiry every month from a farmer that is having to fight “city hall/local government” for the right to offer agritourism on the farm, and needs some help. And I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg—if I’m getting that many inquiries, there are probably ten times as many people fighting these same struggles. Many farmers are having to seek special permits each year just to have an event, expand your parking area, offer camping, host large company picnics, put in a bakery and to sell products other than what you grow.

To put it bluntly, it appears that we might have gotten the word “agritourism” into the Webster’s dictionary this year, but it doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary of some of those folks in control of our local, county, and state government.

Several states, including Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, have actually passed legislation that now includes agritourism as a definition under agriculture. By defining agritourism, they seek to provide recognition that the agritourism activities should be recognized as an extension of the farm business. I have also seen language adopted by local municipalities to redefine agricultural offerings to include the myriad of activities we now call agritourism.

Overall, however, we are seeing local counties and municipalities defining their local zoning to include further uses for housing developments and shopping centers, but these accumulating ordinances tend to ignore and often restrict the farmers’ use of his land. The ordinances offer excessive regulation or restriction that fail to acknowledge the unique and seasonal nature of agritourism, not to mention the critical fact that agritourism may be a key component to the very survival of the farm.

As the number of family farms continues to decline across North America—and our younger generation no longer sees returning to the family business as a good economic opportunity—many of us have been turning to agritourism as a means to keep the farm going. So, how can we assure that our livelihood can be continued?

First, I believe it’s time to be more proactive, and second, we need to set up a better network to share information, and to learn from each other.

If zoning issues have been holding you back, or if you have already solved these problems, I’d like to hear from you. If you’ll help me learn more, I’ll pass it on to others through my articles and presentations. Together, we can make a difference.

Please click here to complete this important survey on Agriculture Zoning. This information, coming in from throughout North America, will allow me to get a better grasp of what’s happening out there. And once I have this information, I’ll get back to you and other farmers having a difficult time just trying to conduct your business.

This isn’t a long survey. I would like to hear your stories—the good ones and the bad ones. Tell me where your plans hit the wall of bureaucracy. On the other hand, tell me how you have you been able to achieve good outcomes by working through your local county governments. I want to hear if you have had success in dealing with your neighbors over your expanded business ventures. You share with me, and together we’ll help others.

Please take your time now to go online to help the industry. Again, that website is www.eckertagrimarketing.com. I will not only commit to collecting this information, but I plan to make the summary information available to all who ask. There might even be some examples that I can use for follow up stories.

It’s time we help each other and make agricultural zoning benefit the producers and not just the developers. Like I said, together we can make a difference.

Jane Eckert, a national speaker, author and agritourism expert, is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a firm that helps farmers sell products directly to consumers and develop their operations into tourist destinations. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or at jane@eckertagrimarketing.com