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Agritourism on the rise

When tourism and agriculture combine it creates agritourism, an industry that has tripled in size in North Carolina since 2002. Some farms are diversifying into agritourism to increase revenue while continuing to grow crops or raise livestock. Others are turning to agritourism so they can keep farmland in their family.  

Agritourism gives people outdoor experiences such as picking a pumpkin from the patch, choosing their own Christmas tree, or picking strawberries at a you-pick farm. It can provide recreation like hiking, camping, or outdoor playgrounds. My kids have taken several school field trips to agritourism farms. Wedding venues on the farm are also becoming popular.

I recently spoke during the NC Agritourism Conference, hosted by the NC Agritourism Networking Association.  The conference included tours, a trade show and educational sessions. 

One particularly interesting session included two farmers and representatives from several Chamber of Commerce offices and state-owned welcome centers. They talked about the value of being members and how the chamber can promote their member agritourism farms.  

I was surprised to hear the welcome centers talk about how many people stop during their travels, looking for things to do in the area. I’d always assumed people stopping just needed a restroom break, but I learned otherwise. Several farmers who live near these centers mentioned they would consider sending brochures to them.

One speaker stood out, or rather made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. McLaurin Farms used to have cattle, but they realized that wasn’t going to pay the bills. So, they turned to agritourism and have several big events throughout the year. The most popular is the Woods of Terror.  They hire around 100 actors to create this haunted trail. The commercial for this attraction was enough to keep me up at night.  

With this growth in agritourism, these farms are creating new sources of revenue, often in rural areas. In addition to providing destinations for visitors, these farms are creating jobs, increasing the local tax base, and helping preserve land in agriculture.  The industry is growing, and conferences like this are valuable opportunities to network, get new ideas, and continue the trend of bringing people to the farm.

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