Agritourism is a promising sub-sector of Vermont’s agricultural economy, encompassing direct-to-consumer sales of local food (e.g., farm stands, pick-your-own), agricultural education (e.g., school visits and workshops on farms), hospitality (e.g., overnight farm stays), recreation (e.g., hunting, horseback riding), and entertainment (e.g., hayrides, harvest festivals). Agritourism enterprises allow farms to diversify their operations while preserving their core production model and the working landscape, retaining or creating additional jobs, and maintaining farming traditions. At the same time, the public becomes educated about the importance of agriculture to a community’s economic base, quality of life, history, and culture. However, opening a farm to visitors increases liability exposure and requires skills beyond food production, such as marketing and customer service.
Consumer demand for local food and experiences on farms has led to rapid increases in agritourism around the world. The global agritourism market was estimated at $5.7 billion in 2018 with projected annual growth of 12% through 2025.1 Vermont is at the forefront of this movement. In 2017, at least 1,833 farms in Vermont benefitted from $49,971,000 in direct sales. The same year, 186 farms reported $1,709,000 in income from agritourism and recreational services such as farm tours, hay rides, hunting, and fishing. In addition, many farms offer agritourism activities as a way of building consumer demand without receiving income directly from those activities.2 (see Consumer Demand brief, Direct Markets brief).
Agritourism is a way for Vermont farms to differentiate themselves through authentic experiences that strengthen the Vermont brand and increase product sales. Several organizations are working together to establish beneficial partnerships for marketing and technical assistance to support food, beverage, and farm tourism. However, bridging the divides between agriculture, education, and tourism comes with challenges. Farmers must acquire different skills than those used for producing food, and new facilities may be needed to accommodate visitors. Innovative enterprises test the boundaries of policy and regulation, which led to the passage of Act 143 in 2018, related to accessory on-farm businesses. A multi-state research project led by the University of Vermont is underway to address critical success factors for agritourism, but substantially more research and outreach is needed to fully understand the scale and scope of this sub-sector and the best ways to support farmers, their communities, and the local food system.