Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cut-your-own Trees, workshops, zoning

Cut-your-own Christmas trees are making a comeback in Massachusetts, according to Amy Bracken of the Boston Globe. Even when the cut-your-own trees cost far more than the Canadian pines sold by large retailers, demand for locally-grown trees outstrips supply. One reason is that freshly cut trees stay green for months, while older pre-cut trees quickly lose their needles. Another is that people enjoy the cut-your-own farm experience. To quote from the article:
Tree farmer Sighle Philbin explained the attraction this way: “When you take your child [to a tree farm], that might be the only farm experience they’ll ever have. How many dairy farms are left in Massachusetts?’’
But Philbin goes on to say:
Even with the rise in popularity, tree farming in Massachusetts is not making people rich. “It would be more profitable to sell off the land to developers.’’
For other cut-your-own Christmas tree articles, check out:

Ag Secretary Kicks off Christmas Tree Season, about Christmas tree farms in New Jersey.
Farms grow memories along with trees, from the Des Moines Register.

Mark Howell (right) walks with his father Mark Howell among trees at the Howell Tree Farm near Cumming, Ia. on Dec. 3, 2009. The tree farm is in its second generation.

Workshop notices and opportunities for agritourism farms

There will be an agritourism workshop at Clemson University, SC, on January 6.

The CT Department of Agriculture is offering a new brochure program for agritourism farms. A freestanding agritourism brochure rack will be dedicated to each of the state's five major Welcome Centers. Farmers who wish to have their brochures included on the rack must sign up for the program by January 19, 2010.

Here's a great rundown of Arkansas Agritourism by the Rockefeller Institute. The Institute will be hosting a three-day retreat called The Nature of Agritourism: Exploring Nature Tourism and Birding as a Business on February 19-21, 2010.

The annual Florida AGRIitunity Conference will be held on January 23, 2010. The educational program will feature a Central Florida producer and chef that focuses on grass fed beef and poultry production along with agritourism.

The University of Florida Extension has come out with a new report called Potential Impacts of Agritourism in South Miami-Dade County. Whether or not you are interested in Florida, the report has a good overview of agritourism, and cites examples of successful agritourism networks elsewhere in the country.

Zoning and land use

Portland, OR is known for its green urban planning practices, including an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) that restricts sprawl by concentrating urban development. Yet the city is growing, and might find a million or so people adding to the population within the next 25 years. The town of Helvetia, renowned for its agritourism and rural recreation opportunities, is facing new pressure. Planners are considering expanding the UGB to include the town. Hopefully Portland's growth does not endanger the character of the city's rural outskirts.

Squamish and Whistler, BC, are also trying to work out a Regional Growth Strategy. The Squamish Climate Action Network has spearheaded an initiative to grow more food in the district. And in the nearby Pemberton Valley, local farmers, residents, consultants, and officials are identifying strengths and challenges of Valley agriculture, with the aim to develop a Pemberton Valley Agricultural Area Plan. As elsewhere, one of the major challenges facing agriculture is the high land cost of land in the face of development. Other challenges include, to quote the article:
“The lack of respect for farmers and agriculture,” the absence of local plant and animal processing, limited local agricultural diversity and challenging farm economics.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Farm Stay Features, Upcoming Conferences

In a food feature for the Memphis Flyer, Sarah Christine Bolton gave a glowing report of food and agritourism in Chattanooga, TN. Bolton says that the city is "embracing artistic endeavors, sustainable business, locally grown food, and a thriving agri-tourism industry."

Photo: Working Horse Winery
Becky Gavigan of Granville Online wrote about the Working Horse Winery Inn in a recent article. The organic, 22-acre horse-powered vineyard and farm stay is an in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, in BC, Canada.

Photos: Joy Henkle  
Joy Henkle of, a blog about travel, food, river rafting, and hiking in Southern Oregon, recently featured Pennington Farms. The 90-acre berry farm has an "old school" bakery and farm store specializing in berry pie and jam, as well as a 3-bedroom farm stay rental home. The pies look amazing.

Upcoming agritourism conferences and workshops

The 2010 Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism, & Organic Conference will be held in Springfield, IL from January 6-8. Thanks to the Local Matters blog for this info.

The fifth Tennessee Agritourism Cultivating Farm Revenue Conference will be held in Nashville on Jan. 28-30, 2010, in conjunction with the Tennessee Horticultural Expo.

According to Durham, NY's The Daily Mail, the Durham Agricultural Community Partnership announced a Farmer’s Forum tentatively scheduled for Jan. 28. The forum is meant to update farmers on the progress that the Partnership has made in exploring ways to strengthen local agriculture and markets. Agritourism is one of the Partnership's four primary research strands, which also include forestry, livestock, and maple syrup production. According to local farm stay host Sherry Hull of Hull-O Farms:
Every farm is unique and they each have something different to offer. My visitors tell me how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. They say they don’t want to leave at the end of their vacations. We have to remind ourselves of how it looks from their perspective and appreciate and experience our lifestyle through their eyes.
The Nebraska Governor’s Agri/Eco-Tourism Workshop for 2010 will take place Feb. 3 and 4 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Kearney. The workshop is sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Travel and Tourism Division, along with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Local officials in Augusta, VA are "buzzing" with talk about agritourism, according to an article by Chris Graham in the Augusta Free Press. From the article:
“The pressure on farmers is clearly there,” county economic-development director Dennis Burnett said. The county economic-development plan includes among its action points the development of strategies to help farmers grow and diversify their businesses ... “It contributes to the bottom line if we can make farming more economically viable. And at the same time, it preserves our rural landscape. It can be a win-win for everybody.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

D Acres of New Hampshire - Interview

D Acres of New Hampshire Organic Farm and Educational Homestead
is a diverse nonprofit that hosts year round events and workshops on topics like food, ecological construction, gardening, blacksmithing, and woodworking. Located on 180 primarily forested acres, D Acres welcomes a range of workers and guests for its internships, apprenticeships, and hostel. Hostel guests can choose from camping on tent platforms, sleeping on the floor of the large yoga room, or three beautiful private bedrooms in the spacious Community Building. Prices range from $10 to $65. Guests are encouraged to tour the farm and gardens with a staff member. In the winter, snowshoe rentals are available, and miles of groomed trails provide excellent cross country skiing. In the summer, the trails are open to mountain bikers and hikers. Rumney Crag, a world-class rock climbing destination only 10 miles from the farm, also lures scores of climbers to the area. D Acres offers guests an organic, farm-fresh breakfast or dinner for an additional $10 each, per person.

I worked at D Acres' Garden Manager in 2005. Because D Acres has such an interesting farm stay model - it's the only one I know about that operates as a hostel and offers such a wide range of accommodations - I recently asked Executive Director Josh Trought to reflect on D Acres' experience running the hostel.

MN: When did D Acres open its hostel?
JT: 2003

MN: What was the reason for opening the hostel?
JT: To increase exposure for the educational aspects of this farm system model, increase cultural exchange, directly market value-added agricultural products, utilize available resources, and to increase revenue.

MN: How has the farm/hostel changed over the years?
JT: We've gained a higher comfort level with the uncertainties of life, and introduced more marketing and administrative efficiencies.

MN: What have been your greatest successes and challenges with the hostel?
JT: Successes--the food has been the greatest success, and the revelations people have had from flavor produced through sustainable production. We've also had great multinational bonfires and music. The biggest challenges have come when people from metropolitian areas perceived the staff as servants, wanting coffee and cell phone service and the ability to arrive after midnight.

MN: What would you like guests to come away with after staying at D Acres?
JT: To understand the value of local, sustainable food and of a farm system that includes equitable divisions of labor and decision making.

MN: What advice do you have for other farmers thinking about offering overnight lodging for guests?
JT: Visit other farms that offer lodging, practice with friends and volunteers, be hospitable though don't forget who the farmers are and why you are there...this is a showcase for value adding your greatest goods and services--the FARM.

All photos courtesy D Acres of New Hampshire

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Zoning, Location, Local Economics, Agritourism Books


"A profitable farm preserves itself," says Prince George's County, MD Farm Bureau President Yates Claggett. The Prince George's County Council recently passed two bills that support agritourism. The first adds wineries to the county zoning code, while the second defines agritourism, and allows it in certain residential areas. Although the county can now provide permits for wineries to operate, farmers interested in selling their wine on-site still must pass an additional hurdle, as current laws do not allow wineries to obtain liquor licenses.

Fayettville, GA resident Scott Tyson is also lobbying his county to expand zoning ordinances to allow him to develop a plan for an unconventional, 10-acre farm that includes agritourism. The measure, if approved by the County Planning Department, would "create Neighborhood Agribusiness zoning in the Rural Conservation zoning district."

In Central Virginia, the Albemarle County Planning Department has been raising questions about the definition of agritourism and about what constitutes normal winery activity, in order to bring local ordinances in line with those of the state. Local winery owners seem wary of the restrictions that the Planning Department has been discussing. Issues like this always beg the question: Has someone complained about the activities of local wineries? If so, who?

What are all of the benefits and costs of agritourism to local communities? How can tensions between neighbors best be resolved?


The success of agritourism relies heavily on location and marketing. For Hardin Farms in Arkansas, the construction of a bypass that routes traffic around the town of Grady has slashed the farm's customer base. Drivers passing through the area were once routed next to Hardin Farms; now, with the bypass, even drivers who had previously made a habit of stopping at the farm have trouble finding it. The Hardins are now applying for highway signs to direct traffic to the farm. Like so much else in farming, even the viability of a particular location can change.

Local Economics

Mary Morgan of the Ann Arbor Chronicle recently wrote an excellent column discussing local v. larger businesses. The column highlights the powerful effects that local politics can have on encouraging or discouraging locally-owned and community-based businesses. Ms. Morgan argues that local governments face a tension between luring large companies to an area and helping incubate homegrown entrepreneurs.

Agritourism Books

Kathy Purdy of the Cold Climate Gardening Blog recently wrote a book review of Hudson River Valley Farms: The People and the Pride behind the Produce, by Joanne Michaels. The book looks lovely, and seems like it provides some interesting commentary from farmers about agritourism. Take this quote, for instance, from Steve Osborne of Stoutridge Vineyard: "Agri-tourism is the last refuge of agriculture." I hope to check out the book soon myself.

If you're a farmer interested in expanding to agritourism, also check out Barbara Berst Adams' The New Agritourism: Hosting Community and Tourists on Your Farm.