Tag Archives: community development

Agritourism study finds on-farm activities are good business for farmers

Child on a tractor at a farm.

Tourism is the second-highest revenue-generating industry in the commonwealth, contributing $21.2 billion to the state’s economy.

From pick-your-own strawberry operations and winery tasting rooms to pumpkin patch fields and cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, agritourism is growing in the commonwealth and across the country. A recent statewide study by Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension found that visiting farms is not just a pleasant way for consumers to leisurely spend a Sunday — it’s also a viable way for farmers to supplement their income.

The study defines agritourism as a value-added activity that generates additional net farm income and creates a loyal consumer base for branded farm products.

Agriculture is Virginia’s No. 1 industry; it has consistently grown over the last two years, reaching a record $3.35 billion in exports in 2014. Tourism is the second-highest revenue-generating industry in the commonwealth, contributing $21.2 billion to the state’s economy and making a marriage of the two industries a logical economic strategy for growing businesses.

Forty-two percent of operators who responded to the survey reported that agritourism contributed between 76 and 100 percent of their farm income. The study also found that in 2013 almost all of the operations surveyed claimed that the average agritourism visitor spent $31 to $40 on the property per visit.

Wineries accounted for 44 percent of the respondents. The growth of the wine industry in the commonwealth over the last 10 years was cited in the study as a positive example of the economic power of agritourism.

“The study dealt with a decline of the midsize farms in the commonwealth, so finding ways to help the entrepreneur who would be likely to start a farming operation of this size was important,” said Gustavo Ferreira, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics and Virginia Cooperative Extension economist.

Unlike Europe, where agritourism has been a common activity that engages tourists and encourages interaction with local farmers, agritourism is not thought of in the same way in the United States. This could be causing both the agriculture and tourism industries to lose revenue, not to mention the lost opportunity to strengthen relationships between farmers and consumers.

“Farming isn’t just good business, it’s good community building,” said Martha Walker, an Extension community viability specialist and collaborator on the study. “Our survey found that overall the industry is viable and has the potential to add value and income to the state’s No. 1 industry.”

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Helping communities become more sustainable and economically secure

Beth Schermerhorn

Beth Schermerhorn is conducting a survey to measure food access in Harrisonburg. Her project, Harrisonburg EATS, is funded through the Community Viability Endowment.

Ten years ago, an endowment was created to help communities across the commonwealth and beyond be more sustainable and resilient through partnerships with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and local community members.

Since its inception in 2004, the endowment, which has grown to more than $2 million, has provided income to fund numerous projects that foster partnerships and spur creative research at the granular level. It has also provided seed money for an array of projects with wide-ranging impacts.

“A gift like this can get lots of different projects started,” said Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Professor of Excellence in Community Viability, a position funded by the endowment. “We are helping people leverage resources.”

The gift was given in honor of R. Michael Chandler, Donald P. Lacy, and J. Douglas McAlister in recognition of their service to Virginia Cooperative Extension.

One initiative that has its roots in the Community Viability Endowment is the Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results program. Supported with seed money from the endowment, the program trains professionals from industry, academia, research, and education to serve as leaders in the agricultural industry.

Another program currently being funded is the Appalachian Foodshed Project. Funds from the Community Viability Endowment have helped get crucial conversations started about strengthening food security networks throughout Appalachia.

“The project has brought more awareness about the challenges Appalachia faces when talking about community food security,” said Susan Clark, associate professor of horticulture and director of the program. “By listening to what community stakeholders are telling us, everyone learns how to work together to meet the goal of regionally enhanced food security.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg EATS is also being funded by the Community Viability Endowment.

“We’re hoping to engage the community but also to have those tangible impacts that come out of this process,” said Beth Schermerhorn, education research support specialist at the Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education development program. “Part of our goal is not only increasing food security through access, which seems to be what the broader discussion is about, but also providing meaningful employment that provides a salary and living wage through food systems.”

Other projects funded this year include programs to expand science-based outreach and to use agricultural curriculum as a multidisciplinary teaching tool.

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