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Be ready for agritourism to skyrocket this year    

I’m best man at a wedding near San Francisco this summer. So with some close friends, we’re going to take advantage of the opportunity, stretch out the stay and engage in a bit of agritourism, by visiting a few Napa Valley wineries that are relatively close.

We’ve been to several Ontario wineries through the years and we’re anxious to see how Napa Valley vineyards cater to visitors.

Some wine experts say the latest vintages of red wines there have been tainted by smoke from nasty California wildfires. I hope that’s an exaggeration.

But even if it’s not, it won’t bridle our tour. Like everyone, we’re eager to distance ourselves from the frustrating but necessary travel restrictions from the past two years caused by the pandemic. The freedom to travel responsibly is fresh and welcomed.

We’re not alone in our zeal to travel. At Christmas, the North American travel industry was already reporting that bookings were “roaring back.” But it cautioned that travellers would need to be patient because staffing at many destinations could be an issue.

The question for me is how labour might also affect agritourism – education, recreation, outdoor activities, accommodations, and direct sales from farms.

On one hand, you’d think there’d be little effect. After all, farmers live on their farms. There’s almost always someone home, especially if they have livestock.

So if follows that if you want a rural experience, it’s a safe bet that if you drive to an advertised destination, the lights should be on and the door open.

However, farmers have challenges attracting labour as well. And if their destination is labour intensive with meals and overnight accommodations, staffing could be a problem.

But let’s not talk about leaving before we arrive. Let’s look forward to busy but safe highways and rural roads this year as the agritourism season arrives. 

In the US, administration is hoping a boost in agritourism helps farmers make a living on their farms.

It’s astounding, but the US Department of Agriculture says nearly 90 per cent of farmers do not generate the majority of their income from the farm. That’s much higher than most people would estimate, me included.

Maybe agritourism is an answer. Farm agritourism revenue in the US more than tripled between 2002 and 2017. It was still just under six percent of total farm income. But it was closing in on $1 billion in value.

Those numbers and other considerations have prompted two federal politicians to propose the creation of an Office for Agritourism.

“From our world-class wineries and breweries to local orchards, dairies, and farmers markets, agritourism is a vital part of Central Washington’s economy,” said proponent Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington State. “I am proud to introduce the Agritourism Act to ensure that agritourism businesses have an advocate within USDA which will in turn help preserve our important agriculture traditions and honor our way of life.”

One issue its members are dealing with already is a liability. They don’t want farmers deterred from even giving agritourism a try, for fear of being sued for extraordinary incidents leading to injury.

At the University of Illinois, researchers say many states have or are considering efforts to encourage the industry’s development via various types of legislation. Legislation limiting liability for certain activities intrinsic to agritourism is among the most common.

All this is yet another reminder that while farming is a lifestyle, it’s also a business. And for legal purposes, that’s especially true when visitors come driving down the lane for a farm experience.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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