Agritourism: Support Your Local Farmer
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Agriculture is the number one industry in Pennsylvania, so farming still is a way of life for many families. Yet it’s easy for the rest of us to take for granted the hard work and sustainable environment required to grow food when we’re so removed from the process.
Guests on a working farm learn about the farm cycle of life, the origin of food, how natural fiber is “harvested” from animals, the significance of “living” soil, and our dependence upon—yet seeming disregard for the health of —soil, water, plants and animals.
The search for moreGenerations after their ancestors gave up farming in search of a better life in the city, growing numbers of Americans are searching for their rural roots amid the countryside. Their eagerness to milk a cow, ride a horse, pet a goat, wander through a cornfield or pick their own peaches—and the need for farmers to supplement their income—fueled a trend called agritourism.
Agritourism is nothing new. In 1985, the Italian government officially recognized the concept of agriturismo to support small farmers that were, and still are, struggling to keep up. The agricultural activities today do not generate as much income as in previous generations, so by adding a tourism component, these farms can remain operational. As such, they preserve the landscape, farmhouses and local communities, and in this way agriturismo is a very sustainable form of tourism worldwide.
What’s it all about?Farmers all around Pennsylvania open their farm gates and barn doors to people yearning to reconnect with their agricultural roots. Deana Doyle, a corporate librarian in Atlanta, visits a Pennsylvania farm regularly with her husband Martin and their three daughters to pick peaches and soak up the farm ambience. Doyle says her daughters are so thoroughly urbanized that, for years, one refused to walk barefoot in the grass. Vacationing on a farm changed all that.
“They like the orchards because it’s fun—you’re outside, you’re in the country and it’s really beautiful. Things smell o-so-fresh and they can climb trees,” Doyle observes.
Agritourism brings together the people who grow our food, and raw materials needed for fabric, with visitors whose contact with agriculture may be limited to buying milk at a supermarket. In a number of states, officials today are working to cultivate agritourism destinations around traditional crops.
“It’s a little bit history, a little bit nostalgia, a little bit education,” notes Roy Ballard, a University of Pennsylvania agricultural extension specialist. “A lot of folks in the city are a generation or two removed from their rural roots. Farm vacations give them a chance to look back at what their own parents, or even their grandparents, never experienced.”
What to see
Picking your own fruit allows you the thrill of knowing you have picked the freshest fruit possible.
Routine farm chores even can be an attraction. Morning and evening chores can include carrying hay bales, filling water tubs for cows and horses with a hose, dumping grain into the goats’ feed bucket, and even trying to milk her. Any Pennsylvania farm with a collection of animals—from cuddly lambs to exotic-appearing llamas—is a magnet for kids.
If you’re lucky, your farm stay may include some meals; there’s nothing like the taste of fresh meats, cheeses and fruits and vegetables grown on the farm.
Visitors who head for the hills may find themselves hiking, antiquing, horseback riding or fishing on or near their temporary farmstead. All the farms in Pennsylvania that welcome guests are different. That’s what’s great about them.
A primary goal of a farm stay is to have fun and, at the same time, learn something about farming. Farm owners believe that every urban child should know that their food, including milk, is produced on a farm and is not merely a commodity purchased at a grocery store.
“I think people are genuinely trying to get to know their farmer,” notes Audrey Smith Rogers, a farming enthusiast who regularly goes “a-farming” in Montour County. “When you go to the store, and buy corn or beef or bacon or peas, many people aren’t really sure what they’re getting,” she says. “Spending time on a farm gives people a sense of connection to traditional agriculture.”
Every family needs a vacation to get away from the everyday routine and stimulate new interests. Planning a farm vacation should be a family project with the interests and ability levels of all members taken into account. There are various farm vacation possibilities in Pennsylvania to meet the needs of every member of the family.
Mary Syrett, whose articles graced the pages of Susquehanna Life magazine for more than a decade, passed away in December 2016.
Visit SusquehannaLife.com/WebExtras for the Dos and Don’ts for a farm stay, and for information about farms that offer vacation opportunities.