Agrotourism is a self-explanatory venture: it’s the crossroads of agriculture and tourism—it’s the linkage of agricultural production and/or processing with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertainment and/or education that is a source of income for the business owner.
Four Factors of Agrotourism:
Combines the essential elements of the tourism and agriculture industries.
Attracts members of the public to visit agricultural operations.
Designed to increase farm income.
Provides visitors with recreation, entertainment, and/or educational experiences.
Agrotourism operations can be found throughout the U.S. and all over the world, ranging from seasonal operations to larger, year-round operations that offer numerous consumer services. Examples of larger-scale agrotourism include dude ranches, demonstration farms, agricultural museums, petting and feeding zoos, living-history farms, winery tours and tastings, rural bed and breakfasts, and some multi-produce you-pick operations. Seasonal agrotourism includes pumpkin-picking patches, corn mazes, hayrides, cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, and some smaller produce farms such as strawberry patches.
In all its forms, agrotourism gives producers an opportunity to generate income in addition to their operation’s primary output, and it also serves as an avenue for direct marketing to consumers. Agrotourism can also enhance the local tourism industry by increasing the overall volume of visitors to an area as well as their length of stay. Additionally, communities can potentially increase their local tax bases and new employment opportunities while educating the public, preserving agricultural lands, and developing business enterprises.
One agrotourism farm getting it right in every way is White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia.
White Oak Pastures is a six-generation farm of over five thousand acres that has been in the Harris family for over one hundred and fifty years. Captain James Edward Harris founded the family farm soon after the Civil War, working the land with sharecroppers and raising cows, hogs, and chickens. Early in the twentieth century, James’ son, Will Carter Harris, took over the farm and increased production. Meat was delivered via a mule-drawn wagon three miles up a dirt road into the town of Bluffton where it was distributed to general stores and other locales. After World War II, Will Bell Harris took up his leadership of the farm during a time when science introduced chemical tools to farming, and the slaughtering process became centralized and distant from the pastures. As the century ended, White Oak Pastures only produced cattle for the industrial beef production industry.
However, a transition began in 1995 when Will Harris III made the conscious decision to return to a production system that is better for the animals, the consumers, and the environment. “The scientific advances that were funded by the WWII effort…led to food productions systems that were incredibly cheap in the short run,” Will explains. “In the longer term, they resulted in costs that we cannot bear.” Will reinstated the multi-species rotational grazing practices used by his forefathers, and he built abattoirs on the farm to keep the slaughtering process on their own land. Today, White Oak Pastures raises ten species of livestock; processes the animals on the farm; and markets the beef, poultry, lamb, eggs, rabbits, vegetables, leather products, pet chews, and tallow products directly to consumers—consumers who appreciate and return to the artisan, small-batch products.
“Knowing your farmer is the best-case, and it is possible! More importantly, the consumer should know what production systems their farmer employs.”—Will Harris III