Awaken your Senses with Agriculinary Tourism
Heidi Siegelbaum (written originally for the PURE Travel Collaborative)
Grazing cows dotted the horizon line like toy pieces, cumulus clouds high in the sky framing red barns and ancient twisted fences lining dirt roads. This was Vermont in the 1980s when I lived there. There were no billboards, no overhead telephone wires and a fierce sense of community that still breaths politically through town hall community meetings where local decisions are made.
Part of this economy is our own promise in Washington State as well- helping farms to stay in business, celebrating and promoting local foods within local food systems, introducing people to new foods they have never eaten, bridging the rural-urban divide and connecting people through one of the most fundamental and life affirming social forms on the planet-- the table.
Agriculinary tourism, the many ways to share, celebrate and support farming and food, has old roots in Europe where farm stays are standard fare. In many ways, the desire to engage with farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs and food artisans-- whether through kale chips or working on a farm, or through our own gardening, the burgeoning rise of city chickens and goats, food trucks and yummy dripping sandwiches-- reflects a deep seated desire to connect with the land, feel alive, connect with people over food and breathe deeply in a visually rich and sumptuous environment. Many urban dwellers are stressed beyond their capacities, wired to the hilt with technology and living in less than clean air environments.
Agriculinary tourism provides a way to relax, to breathe and to reconnect with things that matter in our lives, including building local economies.
Farms and food as expressed in agriculinary tourism offers direct marketing opportunities for farmers, ranchers and fishers which can spell the difference between failure and ensuing development sprawl, and staying in business, being profitable and keeping cultural traditions and places alive.
Agriculinary tourism also offers a historical reference point that can help reconnect us with what matters- community, relationships, land, the people who grow our food, beauty and a desire to protect what is worth protecting- many of those things are intangible. Washington had total farm sales in 2007 of $6.8 billion but net returns to farmers has been declining since 1997 (WSU School of Economic Science). Small and medium sized farms are rapidly disappearing from our landscape and this is a disaster for families, communities and tourism as we understand it.
But there is reason for hope and celebration-- many reasons. Cook books are the #1 book category in sales; we are awash in the Food Network, a return to canning and gardening, a return to food love and importantly, local food as part of a more regional, locally based economy. Washington State residents and visitors love to buy directly from our farmers and the statistics reflect that: 13.7% of all farms in the state are engaged in direct marketing compared to 6.2% nationally (Office of Farmland Preservation, WA).
The first tangible forms of direct marketing were farm stands, followed by U-Pick operations (WA. Grows a lot of fruit, our second highest food production area after beef), farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions in which residents buy a “share” up front before the growing season and receive whatever a farm or group of farms grow during that season. At this point, boasts over 100 Farmers Markets and that number grows nearly every few months.
Agriculinary tourism is everywhere if you look for it: value added food products like jams, salsas, breads, butters, sauces, juice, crackers, beer and wine; places you can visit and learn such as 21 Acres, a plethora of wedding sites, wine/spirit/beer tasting and tours, places to stay such as Dog Mountain Farm and Bull Hill Ranch, farm tours, harvest celebrations and kid friendly farm activities such as corn mazes, pumpkin patches and visits with friendly farm animals.
Savor Washington has links to many of these places, people and events, as do WSU extension offices across the state. Some of the regulatory barriers to more fully developed farm stays, cooking schools, community conversation space and a linked trail system that connects farms with value added food, restaurants and the broader tourism context include local zoning laws, labor issues, population growth and land values (which push farmers to sell their land), succession planning, and available water for irrigation.
If you own a restaurant, an inn, a tour company or guide service, you can help grow agriculinary tourism and its real promise by buying from local farmers, ranchers and fishers, supporting farmland preservation efforts and building community by supporting local food systems. Bon Appetite!
Heidi Siegelbaum and Steve Gersman
www.pugetsoundfresh.org/farm-profile (Puget Sound only)