Friday, October 30, 2009

This week's news roundup

Journalist and yoga teacher Ann Marie Swan wrote a lovely article for the Salida Citizen (an intriguing volunteer-run community news site) about Colorado wine and agritourism, accompanied by nice photos of grape stomping and such.

Also, here's a short piece about Missouri wineries and agritourism.

And here's an article about culinary and agri-tourism in Tennessee, from Jacque Hillman of the Jackson Sun.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This week's news roundup: agritourism is flourishing

Each week's agritourism news seems to gather around a certain theme.  This week, the theme that's popping up in local papers around the U.S. and Canada is that agritourism is flourishing even in the recession, as agritourism farms are a good source of close-to-home, affordable family entertainment.  Agritourism has been in the news a lot this week!  I'll just give a roundup of linked headlines from around the country:

Morris agritourism weathering recession (New Jersey)

Area's agritourism offering low-cost options for entertainment (Missouri)

N.D. agritourism just getting started

Tourism sprouts from agricultural roots (B.C., Canada)

Durham pushes importance of agritourism (New York)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alternative energy farm stays

Cross Island Farms, an organic, 102-acre veggie and meat farm in Northern New York, added five primitive campsites this fall.  They're also planning to install a wind turbine, according to an article by writer Nancy Madsen for the Watertown Daily Times. 

Other Northeastern U.S. farm stays featuring alternative energy include:

Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center, in the Catskills of upstate New York, offers a guest house rental, and has rooftop solar panels in addition to a wind turbine.  The farm is organic and horse-powered, raising sheep, goats, and veggies.

Pompanuck Farm Institute, also in upstate New York and 3.5 hours from both New York City and Montreal, is a non-profit that hosts courses, concerts, and events related to the arts, gardening, and sustainability.  The institute is located on 78 acres of fields, forests and streams, and offers personal retreats in private or shared guest houses, or primitive camping.  Some buildings are powered with solar panels.

On Warren Pond Farm, in Central New York's Finger Lakes region, is a self-sufficient, off-the-grid farm with has a water wheel, windmills, and solar panels.  The farm offers tent sites and cabin rentals on 37 acres.  The Warren family raises "morganic" heritage meats like bison, elk, and deer, in addition to grains and vegetables.

D Acres of New Hampshire Organic Farm and Educational Homestead offers primitive camping as well as private or shared hostel accommodations in a beautiful modern farm house in Central New Hampshire.  The farm is located on 180 primarily-forested acres, and has 3 acres of fruit and vegetable gardens, as well as chickens, pigs, and oxen.  The farm has a freestanding solar array that rotates to follow the sun, as well as solar hot water and a solar-powered irrigation system.  (Disclaimer: I worked as the Garden Manager at D Acres in 2005)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nova Scotia and North Carolina

The theme of the articles I've been posting lately seems to be: you can't make a living from just farming anymore -- at least not the kind of farming in which farmers sell to middlemen who determines the price of the goods. Different strategies are in order, from direct-to-consumer sales to hosting customers on the farm for all kinds of activities.

"A tough row to hoe," by Gordon Delaney of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, discusses Nova Scotia's once booming, but now struggling, hog industry. In Nova Scotia, says the article, "Large retailers can bring pork into the province cheaper than local farmers can produce it."

It sounds much like the dairy crisis.  The cost of farmers producing the goods is greater than the wholesale price that they receive for the goods.

Photo caption: At the age of 53, Gerald Vermeulen is being forced to shut down his Canning hog operation. The lifelong farmer’s eyes fill with tears as he says: ’It’s going to be difficult for me to transition into something else, but that’s what I’m going to have to do.’(Photos by TIM KROCHAK / Chronicle Herald Staff)

From the article:
The hog industry is an example of how farmers have had to struggle to survive in a changing marketplace where large national and international grocery chains rule, and competition from cheap imported food products puts the squeeze on local farmers...There’s been a huge consolidation over the past 10 years among retail chains and other food distributors, putting the primary producer at a disadvantage in negotiation and positioning of prices, relative to the costs involved in producing food.

The article continues to analyze the food security risk inherent in a system in which only 7.2% of consumers' food dollars go to local farmers, down from 10.1% in 1991.

There is now, however, a small reverse in the trend. The local foods movement is changing consumer behavior, and some farmers are diversifying and pursuing agritourism in order to become resilient to the tough market.

Photo caption: Caroline Bishop and her father, Andrew, have branched out into alternate farming methods at their Noggins Corner Farm near Wolfville. Plastic field tunnels allow them to grow things like raspberries that normally couldn’t be grown here this time of year.                                              

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Maryland and SoCal Agritourism

Farm fall Photo by Skip Lawrence The Frederick News-Post's Ike Wilson penned an article called "Farm fall," on Maryland agritourism. The opening paragraphs outline an unfortunate but typical pattern for small farms, particularly in more urban/suburban areas. Agritourism here, like elsewhere in the country, is providing a bit of hope for farmers who have run out of options for economic survival. From the article:
"Maryland lost 82 farms in 2006 and the number of cows in the state has dwindled to 60,000 from double that number about 12 years ago, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. To cope, farmers like the Burrier family in Union Bridge decided to diversify after they realized that the prices they were being paid for the products from their KKR Acres Dairy Farm did not cover production costs.

That's when Little Beavers Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze was born, said Robyn Burrier, who runs the business with her husband, Dennis. This fall marks the first patch and maze for the Burriers."

Corn mazes and pumpkin patches seem to be some of the more popular ways that farmers delve into agritourism. Corn mazes run a whole gamut from super high-tech, GPS-designed mazes that are contracted to professional corn maze companies, to farmers who mow or hand-weed their own whimsical trail through the corn field.

I have to admit: I've never been to a corn maze, but I'm intrigued. I'm a bit turned off by the flashy, crowded ones, but whatever the form, I'm glad that farmers have found this unusual way to bring folks to their fields.


Don Curlee of the San Diego Appeal Democrat writes, in an article called Farm tourism in full bloom in rural San Diego, that "the contributions of agritourism to farmers and to the enjoyment of California's non-farm population is on display in San Diego County like no place else." A bold claim! UC-Davis is doing a lot of good work to promote agritourism in the area, with its Small Farm Program. Unfortunately, the UC Small Farm Program is shutting down at the end of 2009 due to a budget shortfall.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kent Harvest Trails in Michigan

Molly Kimmelman of The Grand Rapids Press featured West Michigan's Kent Harvest Trails yesterday. The Kent Harvest Trails, which are celebrating their 20th year, bring 50,000 visitors to 19 farms throughout West Michigan. All kinds of "trails" -- harvest trails, art trails, wine trails, farm trails, quilt trails -- seem to be on the rise. I really like this "trail" idea, and I think it's an effective way to group rural tourism resources together into an attractive bundle. While a single farm or art studio may not seem like reason enough for families to jump in the car and drive for a spell, a whole "trail" of them certainly is. And everyone loves to go on a quest for treats!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leaping Lamb Farm #2

Portland Family Adventures, an online family travel guide for spots around Portland, OR, also featured the lovely-looking Leaping Lamb Farm Stay, complete with a couple of videos. For more information about Leaping Lamb Farm, see my previous post.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oregon Farm Stay: Leaping Lamb Farm, and Tuscany Agriturismo

A nice article called "Living the country life," from the Corvallis, OR paper the Gazette Times and reporter Kyle Odegard, features the Leaping Lamb Farm Stay in Alsea.

Photo caption: Sherri Woolworth and her daughter, Jordan, watch the sheep eat after giving them some hay at Leaping Lamb Farm on Thursday morning. The Woolworths are from Tacoma and are staying at the farm stay to get away from a busy city life and give their children an opportunity to see first hand about the animals they are learning about in school. (Casey Campbell | Gazette-Times)


A blog called Experience Tuscany had a bit on agriturismo in Tuscany today. In Italy, agritourism doesn't have the broad definition that it does here. It simply refers to farm stays. And according to this post, Tuscany has 3500 of them! Holy moly! Agritourism in Italy is sure well developed, in part thanks to subsidies from the Italian government and the European Union. These governments see agritourism as desirable for a few reasons: maintaining rural traditions and livelihoods, keeping agricultural landscapes productive and viable, and dispersing tourism away from congested cities, to name a few. The agritourism grants particularly provide capital for farmers who want to invest in new infrastructure or restore old buildings into guesthouses. Though the grants have been subject to some abuses (i.e. people who use the money to restore a building, but never really open their doors to guests), the government seems to have gotten better at regulating this. In many cases, the rules are quite strict. State governments, for example, determine the percentage of food the must come straight from the farm, as well as the percentage of food that must come from the immediate area. These numbers vary from state to state, but the amount of local food that agriturismi must serve usually approaches 100 percent.

By the way, Italy is where I first fell in love with farm stays. I was studying in Rome for a semester, and decided to do a project on the country's agriturismi. Staying on Italian farms is a wonderful experience. They often serve dinner and breakfast both, around a long table that holds all of the farm guests. The food is the very best you'll have anywhere, and because the food comes straight from the farm and the surrounding area, your hosts often tell you about the nuances of the regional cuisine, along with its history. It's a lot of fun to interact with the other guests and the friendly farm owners too. It's a dolce vita.

My favorite agriturismo (out of three I visited with my family) was called Giandriale. Giandriale is high up in the Ligurian mountains, with cool, sweet air and old stone buildings. The farm produces organic (in Italy they call it biological) vegetables, herbs, and honey on its sloping fields, and there is plenty of hiking and biking in the mountains and forests around the farm. Regional specialties include delicious cakes prepared with corn or chestnut flour, and chestnut gnocchi.

Friday, October 2, 2009

News from Mass. and Vermont

Land in Massachusetts is highly vulnerable to development. One way that some farms have been successful in keeping their land in agriculture is by converting to wineries, and by incorporating agritourism. The Boston Globe featured several Massachusetts wineries in an article by Brian Benson. A quote from the article: “For me, it was whatever we could do to preserve the farm,’’ said Adelman of his decision to switch from baling bundles of hay to harvesting rows of grapes. “We were just trying different things to see what’s sustainable these days to promote local agriculture, open space, and conservation practices.’’ -------------------------------------- Adams Farm, a five generations-old Vermont agritourism farm, is closing. Here's the sad story, by Jaime Cone from the Brattleboro Reformer. And here, an excerpt:

Mancivalano said that agritourism can be a sustainable business in Vermont and that it was only her own special circumstances that prevented her from keeping her head above water in these challenging financial times.

She said that while agritourism is a relatively new term, the practice has been a part of her family's farm for generations.

The Adams family started the farm in 1865. In the beginning it was a very typical Vermont farm, she said -- very diversified.

In the 1880s, it became trendy for wealthy people from New York City to visit the country, Mancivalano said, and the farm was opened up to boarders who wanted to escape city life and enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh food.

In 1970, Mancivalano's parents purchased the farm and decided to close it to the public in order to focus on the dairy business. They began hosting sleigh rides in 1979 when dairy prices began to drop, taking skiers for rides through the woods on snowy evenings when they returned from the slopes.

The idea was a success, and in three years, the family bought two additional teams of Belgian draft horses to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

"We've been doing that ever since," Mancivalano said. Her father, now 69, still does the sleigh rides though it's becoming difficult for him.

Jill Adams Mancivalano sits with her dog Jed with the Adams Farm in Wilmington in the background. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)