Saturday, June 11, 2011

Agritourism keeping more small farms out of the red

A few years ago, the New York Times ran a travel feature on agritourism in Europe. Yesterday, it ran a business feature on agritourism in the United States. It's no secret that those who own and run small farms have typically relied on both farm and off-farm income to make ends meet. Now, however, more farms are relying on a second type of farm revenue: fees paid by tourists, many who want to see and teach their children where food comes from. William Neuman summarizes the phenomenon, writing from Santa Margarita, California.
[I]ncreasingly farmers are eking more money out of the land in ways beyond the traditional route of planting crops and raising livestock. Some have opened bed-and-breakfasts, often known as farm stays, that draw guests eager to get a taste of rural living. Others operate corn mazes — now jazzed up with modern fillips like maps on cellphones — that often turn into seasonal amusements, with rope courses and zip lines. Ranchers open their land to hunters or bring in guests to ride horses, dude ranch style.
Neuman notes that the USDA is promoting agritourism, as through grants like the one that went to an Oregon entrepreneur who established the website Farm Stay U.S. The USDA also tracks such enterprises and others aspects of farming as a business in its Census of Agriculture. The Census indicates that California is among the leaders in agritourism (as it is in agriculture more broadly), with about 700 farms averaging more than $50K/year in such revenue.

The USDA estimated that in 2007, 23,000 farms in the United States engaged in some aspect of agritourism, which generated an average of $23,400 in income. The average agritourism income in the 2002 Census was only $7,200, although more farms reported participating in such enterprises then.

Read other posts about agritourism here.

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