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.