"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.
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.
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.