Instead of loading up their produce and heading into the city, more owners of small family farms are working toward drawing customers out to their fields as part of a growing agritourism trend. And more consumers are willing to drive beyond city limits to forage for wild mushrooms, get lost in a corn maze, or camp overnight in an orchard.
Diversification and strong consumer relationships have helped small family farms stay afloat in an era of large corporate farms and risings costs. In 2012, agritourism alone generated $713 million across the United States, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
It feeds into a sense of nostalgia and connection, too, says Mary Jordan, director of agricultural markets for the state of Massachusetts. Much in the way that chefs have drawn followings, “these farmers are like celebrities,” says Ms. Jordan about the burgeoning field of agripreneurs. “[Kids say,] ‘Wow, you plant the seeds in the ground and you get these beautiful crops.’ ”
Country food festivals have always been around, true, but what is new is the concentrated effort of state tourism boards to market rural settings as a year-round destination – whether for farm stays (milk the cows, feed the chickens before sunup) or a trip to dig for oysters, take a bicycle tour of area farms, or pick wildflowers the morning of your wedding.
The owners of Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass., have spent the past decade expanding its offerings. The farm has peaches and berries in summer, pumpkins in fall; visitors can buy fudge, peanut butter, kettle corn, and apple cider doughnuts. In the past year alone, 46 weddings have taken place in the farm’s event barn. “We try to cultivate and protect a sense of place,” says Al Rose, a fourth-generation apple farmer at Red Apple Farm. “[W]e want people to feel like they are stepping back in time.”
Next up is its Thanksgiving Harvest Festival, in which area producers will supply all the fixings you need for your holiday table under a crisp autumn sky. Sure beats the line at the grocery store.