By Doug Fabbioli
As I was wrestling with finding a theme for my writings this month, I realized I had an appointment scheduled this morning that could help. I met with Wine America today in order to talk with US Representative Jennifer Wexton about her bipartisan bill on Agritourism. Wine America is a nationwide trade association and I got to meet a number of winery reps and regional reps from winegrowing regions across the country—Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Texas to name a few. We all have embraced the idea of having a business that is based on farming and encourages folks to visit the farm—see what we do, sample the wares, and bring some home.
There are a few key points about this relatively new concept that make Agritourism a “win” for the county, state, or in this case the country. Tourism doesn’t need to bring people from far away. Many times it’s only a short trip from the city to visit the farm where the crops grow, the houses are spaced further apart and the air feels more natural. During their visit, people may buy a meal down the road, visit a local park, shop at a local store, and hopefully bring home some goods from their destination. If an overnight stay occurs, the economic impact on the region goes up dramatically.
Agritourism is about more than just economics though; it is also about land use and open space. Businesses that utilize the land in a sustainable way give the land a better chance at staying open rather than being developed into another shopping center or subdivision. Keeping the urban sprawl in check helps to keep the land working for the community and attractive to visitors who are looking to get away from the city for a while.
Another thought about agritourism is that it can expose young people – who might not otherwise have the chance to see and experience it – to farms, land, and the careers that go along with that land. Agriculture is an industry that is here to stay as long as we have people to feed. We need the land, the people to farm it and the knowledge to grow the crops into a successful business. As many of you know, my passion project has been teaching young folks about farming and how they can make a living doing it. We need to keep showing these kids how our hard work can pay off in lifestyle, sustainability, and profit.
The other side of the agritourism coin is the growing interest in what’s called the “foodie” movement. People are interested in the flavors and styles of their food and in knowing where it comes from. Heirloom tomatoes, fresh-off-the-farm corn, grass fed beef, local wines (of course!) and all the many other parts of locally grown food are what fuel the passion and discussion of the foodie movement. People want to see their food and have a closer connection to it.
Sometimes supporting your local farmer means supporting legislation that will help them. Look for the Agritourism bill in the near future, and you might ask your local farmer how it helps them. Please visit your local farm, bring the kids where it makes sense, and bring home some of our products. This year’s season has just begun, and time on the farm is always time well spent!