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Agritourism Is Growing, But Not Without Your Help

By Jane Eckert

After speaking in ten states and in Canada this year, I want to share with you what I am seeing and how you (as the farmer) can be more involved. What I’m seeing is that the new hot “niche” product for the tourism industry is–agritourism. Yes, finally the farms, ranches and wineries are becoming recognized for what we offer, and are now considered an attraction worthy of promotion both locally and by our states.

I’ve written in this column before about making the tourism connection, but now, more than ever, this is very important. It’s time you get off the tractor, get off the farm this winter and learn what is being done by your local and state officials. You need to have a voice in the development of this very important initiative.

Find Out What is Being Done in Your State

Find out what is being done in your state to organize an agritourism program and who is doing the planning. You may have to call several different agencies, because across the nation, the “agritourism” specialists have come from the department of agriculture, the department of tourism, at the ag college or state extension, the farm bureau, the chamber of commerce or the Resource, Conservation and Development councils. Hopefully, you’ll find several departments and agencies working together, but if that’s not the case, you may be the liaison that helps them discover each other and pool their resources.

I am aware of a number of states already working to further the development of an agritourism marketing program: Alabama, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. There may be others. If you don’t see your state here, find out why. If you do see your state listed, make sure you know who they are and what they are doing to promote the industry within your state, and how it might benefit your farm business.

Make a Difference

Be proactive. Once you find out who are the players, you need to step forward and help set the priorities of what needs to be done to further this very important agenda. In many states, the farmers are not at the table in this planning process, and we certainly should be.

Things that can and should be done fall into several categories:

  • Formation of a statewide agritourism association

  • Ongoing farmer education either by region or state wide

  • Creation of a consumer website to market the agritourism properties in the state

  • Obtain funding to finance the association, the education, and the marketing

  • Obtain the cooperation of your state’s department of tourism

If nothing is currently being done in your state, then it’s time that you organize a group of your state farmers and start to make it happen. Also invite some of the people in the above groups. To my knowledge, the farmers in the state of Vermont are apparently the first to organize themselves, and they have intentionally limited the voting members of the Vermont Farms Association to agricultural producers. However you decide to do it, if you are in a state where nothing is happening--then make it happen.

Focus Growing the Agritoursim Initiative in Your State

As farmers, we don’t always do a great job of looking out for our own best interests, but lobbying both your state departments of ag and tourism is going to be necessary to grow agritourism in your state. One is charged with helping agriculture, and the other is responsible to attract travelers from within and beyond the state. They need to know how crucial it is that they work together to grow the agritourism niche.

Ultimately, the marketing power for agritourism comes when state tourism officials embrace the idea that we are valid and significant tourism destinations. You’ll know they recognize the impact that agritourism can have on the state economy when they begin to feature farms and agritourism destinations in their literature and on the home page of their website.

You’ll see what I mean when you take a look at tourism sites in the state of Vermont (www.travel-vermont.com) and the state of Nebraska (www.visitnebraska.org). These two state websites make it clear that farming and agritourism is an important industry in their states—and they set the standard for other states to follow.

Throughout North America, agritourism is significantly improving farm economies. How much it helps you may well depend on how much you are willing to help now. Get involved. Make it happen in your state. Winter is the time we need to focus on our business, so that we have a business next spring.

Jane E. Eckert is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarkting.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or you may to email her directly.