Over the past decade, Virginia has experienced a significant decline in its agricultural operations. The decline in the number of farms has been coupled with a decrease in farming land as well as total crop land (VDACS, 2012). Anecdotal evidence also shows that recent generations are becoming less interested in agriculture, which is leaving farm tasks to the older generations and explains the steady increase in the average age of the principal farm operator. With agriculture being the largest industry in Virginia, it is important to seek ways to reverse this trend. Agritourism has recently emerged as a valid alternative that could buttress economic development in many rural communities. As this article will show, some areas and regions are better suited for agritourism operations than others, which is why clustering of operations occurs.
By combining agriculture with a booming tourism sector in Virginia, agritourism could not only supplement farm income, but also promote local tourism activities. A clear example of how the “marriage” of these two industries can be successful is the wine industry in Virginia, which has experienced an impressive growth in recent years. A look at figure 1 shows how the wine industry has increased to 228 wineries. Wineries are known for their creative additions to their operation, such as wine tours, picking your own grapes, different events, and picnic locations with scenic views. All these perks attract visitors to wineries and increase direct sales. Figure 1 reveals two major wine clusters: (1) one in northern Virginia – outside of Washington D.C.; (2) the other one is located around Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.
Figure 1 :Wineries of Virginia
When we look at other type agritourism operations in Virginia, we see the same clusters along with collections in other emerging areas. In figure 2, the yellow pins represent pick-your-own operations in Virginia, while green are those general agritourism ventures that are not specified to be pick-your-own or wineries. Yet again, we see the same clusters in northern Virginia and Charlottesville/Harrisonburg, but two other clusters emerge in Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas. Furthermore, while these highly populated regions may not have the space or agricultural conditions for a large vineyard, they are already important tourist areas. This may explain their ability to attract visitors to their venues and the concentration of agritourism businesses.
Figure 2 : Agritourism Operations of Virginia (wineries not included)
Figure 3 combines all winery and non-winery agritourism businesses, and it shows the same cluster patterns as in figure 2. Additionally, a smaller cluster also emerges in the Blue Ridge region, around Montgomery County. Interestingly, figure 3 also shows two major gaps in agritourism density in southern Virginia and the heart of Appalachia. This is likely explained by the lack of metropolitan areas and population density to sustain these ventures. Also, accessibility to these areas is limited by lack of major highways, which normally facilitates the movement of visitors from surrounding areas.
Figure 3 : The Agritourism Operations of Virginia
The first three maps identified several agritourism clusters in Virginia. The next step is to identify the regions that tend to be popular agritourism destinations and determine the reasons why those regions are denser than others. The next three maps show the density of agritourism operations by county. When looking at each region’s density individually, certain patterns arise because of the geographic factors of that region. In figure 4, we see that wineries are located mainly in counties from the northern Virginia and Shenandoah regions. These clusters tend to follow the path of major interstates, such as I-81 and I-95, which make these regions easily accessible to the surrounding states. Additionally, the scenic views and historic attractions of the Shenandoah Valley make it one of the most visited places in the country. Aside from the Shenandoah Valley, Loudoun County is also very dense. As shown in figure 4, Loudoun County appears as the most agritourism densely populated county, which is mainly explained by its proximity to Washington D.C. People from this metropolitan area are less able to get the perks of agritourism in Washington D.C., consequently they are willing to travel to Loudoun to gain that rural experience. Although comprising more than 50% of all operations, wineries are only one subsection of agritourism. By including other agritourism operations like pick-your-own, further trends develop.
Figure 4: Density of Virginia Wineries
In figure 5, the other agritourism operations (excluding wineries) follow a similar density pattern to wineries, with the addition of certain trends. The Hampton Roads region is highly dense with agritourism operations as the trends follow interstate 64 from Richmond to this region. The fact that there is only one winery operating in Virginia Beach reinforces the idea that there are many other forms of agritourism in this area. In fact, Virginia Beach has the largest number of non-wine related agritourism operations in the state at 14, which make up 93% of the total agritourism in the area. The next closest county in non-wine related agritourism is Fauquier County with 12. Figure 5 also shows that southern Virginia is denser in wineries relative to other forms of operations.
Figure 5: Density of Agritourism Operations of Virginia (wineries not included)
When non-wine related agritourism operations are combined with the wineries (figure 6), a new concentration of operations appears in Danville. This interesting observation merits a more detailed analysis. Geographically, Danville is a micropolitan area, which, according to the Office of Management and Budget, is an area that has an urban core of at least 10,000, but does not surpass the requirement of a metropolitan area (50,000). Therefore there is a natural inclination to higher population densities in these areas. But more important, Danville is approximately 48 miles from Greensboro, which is part of the metropolitan area known as Greensboro-High Point region. It is also within 66 miles from other popular North Carolina metropolitan areas like Winston-Salem, Durham, and Chapel Hill. In summary, Danville may benefit from its location close to various metropolitan areas in North Carolina, which makes it a potential agritourism destination for visitors from North Carolina.
The high agritourism density in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties may be explained by several factors. First, these counties are located near the Appalachian Mountains, and benefits from great scenic views and roads. Additionally, interstate 81 runs right through this region creating a wake of operations in its path. This describes the populous Shenandoah region, from Frederick County all the way to Rockbridge County. Some other possible reasons it the relative proximity to the metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., Winchester (Virginia and West Virginia), Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, and Martinsburg, West Virginia. Overall, the Shenandoah Valley region accrued $2.1 billion in travel tourism in 2011, which accounted for approximately 10% of Virginia tourism expenditure (VATC, 2013). These and other factors help to explain why the Shenandoah region is an attractive area for agritourism operations.
Figure 6: Density of the Agritourism Operations of Virginia
Although some geographic aspects are linked to higher agritourism densities in certain areas, there are many other influential factors that could help to better explain the location of agritourism operations. This study only delved into the influence of major roads, metropolitan areas, and the influence of a particular natural amenity (the Appalachian Mountain Range). Some other factors that explain regional density include recreation levels, the levels of natural amenities, county income, and county population density and growth. Further development and research on these other factors, will help stakeholders and the industry to draw a full picture of agritourism operations and identify influential factors that determine their location. This information will also provide valuable insights to state and local authorities who are considering agritourism as a future driver of local economic development.
“Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Main.” Office of Management and Budget. 2013. Web. 30 July 2013 http://www.census.gov/population/metro/
“How to find a Pick-Your-Own farm.” Benivia LLC. 2013. Web. 23 June 2013 http://www.pickyourown.org/
“Shenandoah Valley Regional Section.” Virginia Tourism Corporation. Web 30 July 2013 http://www.vatc.org/uploadedFiles/Partnership_Alliance_Marketing/Shenandoah%20Valley_Regional%20Section_1_4_13.pdf
“Virginia Agriculture Facts and Figures.” 2013Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service (VDACS) 2012. Web. 25 May http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/agfacts/
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. VDACS-Virginia Grown. Web. 29 May 2013 http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown/
“Wineries and Wine Events.” Virginia Wine. 2013. Web. 29 May 2013 http://www.virginiawine.org/wineries/
 Graduate Student, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
 Assistant Professor and Extension Economist, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
 Extension Specialist and Community Viability, Virginia Cooperative Extension
 Associate Professor Extension Economist, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
 Graduate Student, Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech