Updated: May 10, 2021
In conversation with Lisa Chase, University of Vermont Extension
As farms are preparing their farm experiences for the season, we’re speaking with Agritourism experts across the country to equip farmers with the latest information to improve their on-farm experiences. We interviewed Lisa Chase, Extension Professor of Natural Resources & Director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center. Lisa's work focuses primarily on applied research and outreach for Vermonters, in the areas of sales, exports, & Agritourism. Her work in Agritourism examines both the supply and demand side of the industry, from supporting farms through liability and regulatory relief to assisting with access to local food and farm experiences for the non-farming public. Part of her current work is on curating the International Workshop on Agritourism, hosted by The University of Vermont Extension in August of 2022. During the course of our discussion, a recurring theme was reimagining our approach to Agritourism. Whether reimagining the parameters of the industry or farm experiences that cater to a new normal.
The agritourism industry continues to grow, and to better understand the market size, and how to measure it, we discussed what’s missing in Agritourism definitions, gaps in existing data, and how to measure the industry without data inclusive of all farm experiences. The definitions and classifications for Agritourism tend to vary at the state and national level. At the national level, the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which provides a count of all U.S. farms and ranches as well as additional information like total income by category, defines Agri-Tourism & Recreational Services as “income from recreational services such as hunting, fishing, farm or wine tours, hayrides, etc.” In an industry analysis of Agritourism co-authored by Chase, a framework was proposed with 5 distinct categories (direct sales, education, hospitality, outdoor recreation, & entertainment) to create a broader definition and framework for analysis. I asked Lisa what else needed to be done to create clear parameters in Agritourism in the U.S and how we can measure the market size in the country without a widely accepted definition.
She believes it starts with having conversations across an international agritourism network on what the boundaries are, what should be included, and what shouldn’t. She touched on how critical it is that data are inclusive of all types of on-farm experiences.
Lisa explained that, “USDA NASS [National Agricultural Statistics Service], Census of Agriculture uses certain terms and conditions that may not be consistent with the way other people are measuring it… A lot of the respondents would read what they've got… and not necessarily think it applies to them… So I think that there’s a lot that’s not captured…” As a result, experiences like direct sales from food and non-food farm product like Christmas trees would be excluded. She did note that there are other survey’s like the Local Food Marketing Practices that capture more of the data. Lisa and her colleagues are bridging the data gap with national surveys they created that are inclusive of broader categories in agritourism.
One area that survey data could not predict was the impact of the events of the past year on all facets of agriculture. I asked Lisa, what the impact of the pandemic has been on agritourism and nature based recreation in her region. According to Lisa, farms that were able to pivot and find new ways to serve their local community did very well. However, businesses that relied on long distance travel and out of state travel, especially those near the Canadian border were “devasted by the pandemic.” The pandemic also paved the way for Vermont Farm Walks, a new program that offers walking trails through participating Vermont farms. The trails have provided the public with a unique way to experience a farm in a way that they hadn’t before. One of the participating farms expanded the guest experience by offering picnic lunches for pre-ordering before arriving at the farm. Once there, guests were able to find a safe spot physically distant from other guests to enjoy their picnic.
Courtesy of Lavender Essentials via Lisa Chase
The impact of the pandemic on the agriculture industry has also affected how Extension professionals and researchers were able to do their work. For The University of Vermont Extension, the pandemic has pushed back their upcoming Agritourism conference. As the next host of the International Workshop on Agritourism, now in 2022, the team found ways to engage the global agritourism community through their monthly virtual agritourism gatherings. Monthly webinars topics have covered everything from Creating Virtual Farm and Food Experiences to Regenerative Tourism. For farm operators that have existing farm experiences or are considering Agritourism, these gatherings are a great way to get new ideas and connect with other farmers, researchers, & tourism professionals in the chat. Their next gathering is on Regional Agritourism Strategies. You can learn more and register for the event here. Our key takeaways from the conversation were how critical it is to capture the full breadth of all on-farm experiences and how Vermont has reimagined their approach to Agritourism in light of the pandemic.
Resources & Takeaways
Be sure to fill out the national and state level surveys when they're available. The next Census of Agriculture is in 2022. Sign Up To Be Counted Here
Looking for ideas or tips on Agritourism? Attend an Agritourism Gathering and watch the playback of previous gatherings. (Link)
Interested in figuring out easy ways to include experiences on your farm? Contact us! We'd love to help you reimagine your approach to farm experiences.
Sources & Additional Resources: https://www.uvm.edu/extension/vtagritourism https://www.uvm.edu/vtrc/agritourism-survey https://www.foodsystemsjournal.org/index.php/fsj/article/view/572/553 https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/usv1.pdf