So obviously I don’t have a farm. But when I first saw the invite to this amazing event come into my inbox, I was determined to make it. Agritourism can be defined as any activity that brings visitors to a farm – whether it be for an overnight farm stay (very popular in Italy), a pick-your-own fruit operation, farm dinner, farm camp, etc. These types of activities are an amazing way to further engage people with a farm, as well as provide an important secondary source of income for small-scale farmers. But beginning and managing these activities is neither simple nor straightforward. How do you write a farm camp lesson plan that fits in with your state’s current educational requirements? How do you market your farmstay experience to the right audience, and how can you keep both visitors and your farm animals safe during these activities?
All of these questions and more were tackled in intensive workshops during last week’s Vermont Farm-Based Education Forum, held at Shelburne Farms. The day before the conference, there were also several amazing field trips to see agritourism in action, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it up there in time.
I was utterly inspired by the attendees (the majority of whom were women). I met several small-scale farmers who have created wonderful, diversified farm-based businesses, but was saddened to learn that some still need to consider finding off-farm jobs to make ends meet. I heard from several agricultural and environmental educators who have designed incredibly creative programs to engage students and the general public in farm activities, such as beet pressing and a zucchini scavenger hunt.
The crew who hosted the event did an amazing job – building in plenty of (non-awkward) networking opportunities and workshops that provided practical and insightful resources that the attendees could take with them to apply on their farms or in their educational programming. The event was hosted by the Farm-Based Education Network and Vermont Farms! Association in partnership with Shelburne Farms, NOFA VT and UVMExtension. I know I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that I hope this becomes an annual event.
This mural below may look like a grade school art project, but in reality it is the culmination of the magic that happened that day. During lunch, the attendees were asked to share the “roots” of what brought them there that day (their passion for sustainable agriculture), the “fruits” they hope will be borne from this event (improvements in farm-based education) and the “meat” of the issue (what needs to be accomplished in order for these positive changes to happen).
Agritourism is another important piece of the local food movement – so many farmers have chosen to share their unique stories with you and opened their farms up for exploration. I encourage you to visit them – you already know that supporting local farms is good for the economy, the environment, and your taste buds – now go see why!