Agritourism has grown in popularity, both as a source of revenue for small farmers and as an educational experience for urban tourists, writes Lela Somoza in "Agritourism Takes Root in the Southeast." The growing industry, which encompasses a host of on-farm activities, is helping farmers and rural economies tap into the Southeast's dynamic tourism market.
The pressures facing farmers are many, including competition from larger farms and overseas products, variable commodity prices, and rising production costs. While some farmers cultivate niche products or seek off-farm employment, others are welcoming tourists to their farms to make extra money, Somoza writes. Indeed, across the Southeast, agritourism ventures generated more than $50 million in revenues, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The industry benefits local economies, too, by bringing tourists to the area. "The influx of tourists generates additional revenues for local restaurants, shops, and other businesses, bringing a welcome infusion of outside dollars," she explains.
With less than 20 percent of the U.S. population living in rural areas, agritourism also plays an increasingly important role in educating consumers about farm life and food production. "Agritourism helps urban dwellers connect to the agrarian past, even if is not their ancestors' past," Somoza explains. One popular activity among agritourists—the farm stay—allows visitors to experience farm life first hand.
Although the industry still makes up a relatively small segment of the larger agriculture and tourism industries, a recent report by the USDA's Economic Research Service surmises that it could play a greater role in future, "both as an alternative source of farm income and as a way for rural economies to diversify and stimulate their economies."
To learn more about the Southeast's burgeoning agritourism industry, see the full article in the first-quarter issue of EconSouth, available in print and online.