By Michelle Infante-Casella, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Gloucester County
What is agritourism? Webster.com defines agritourism (agriculture plus tourism) as “the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and participate in farm activities.” There are other names for agritourism– “agritainment,” “rural tourism” and “farm visits.” All are a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or the processing of agricultural products with tourism to attract visitors to farms and other agricultural businesses for the purpose of entertaining, educating, selling farm products, and creating a meaningful customer experience.
The fall season is the most popular time of year for visiting agritourism farms. The notion of a “simpler life” and nostalgia attracts many people to farms. Some remember stories of past generations of the family who were actively involved in farming. Maybe grandparents or a great uncle had a farm or gardened and raised animals. Perhaps stories were told around the holiday table of eggs collected daily from the hen house or the family cow being milked for morning cereal. It wasn’t that many generations ago when Americans were predominantly involved in some sort of agricultural employment. Movies or television shows depicting rural life or farmers paint a picture of a type of Heaven-on-earth with vast landscapes or relaxed people with easy-going lifestyles. Remember “Field of Dreams?” It wasn’t Heaven – it was Iowa. After that movie became a hit, everyone wanted to walk through a corn field. Hence, the corn maze was born and “build it and they will come” became more than a movie line. It became an income for agritourism businesses.
Many agritourism farms started with a simple corn maze. However, agritourism has reached heights that no one could have imagined during the business model’s infancy. Today, activities most widely available at agritourism farms include petting zoos, hayrides, u-pick crops, children’s play areas and discovery activities, destination mazes, pumpkin patches, festivals, holiday attractions, school field trips, corporate team building events, farm stores, on-farm dining, nature viewing, and educational activities. Some farms have tried to incorporate additional venues such as amusement rides, monster truck events, concerts, and other non-agricultural offerings. However, these activities have been met with some push back from some groups and local officials. Most people visiting a farm prefer farm-based activities and want a more wholesome family experience.
Agritourism and rural tourism activities have been popular for over two decades with increasing numbers of businesses and consumer demand. On-farm visits in the form of agritourism experiences, activities, and a diversity of farm products are one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry. The popularity of agritourism soared during the pandemic due to the lower risk for COVID-19 exposure. Since farms generally comprise significant acreage, the ability to spread out and ensure social distancing in areas like u-pick pumpkin fields, apple orchards, or corn mazes is easily achieved. It is a good idea to check out the venue before heading to the farm to see if they require reservations or advanced ticket purchases. Many farms implemented these procedures to promote customer safety and to ensure an enjoyable experience free of overcrowding and long wait times. Preplanning and selecting a farm that accommodates family preferences and needs based on age-appropriate activities will help to make the trip a success.
So where do you go in New Jersey for a family fun agritourism experience? How do you learn about local farms to visit? One resource is the Visit NJ Farms website: www.visitnjfarms.org. The site has an excellent listing of farms offering activities, farmers markets, nursery and greenhouse plants, choose-and-cut Christmas trees, pick-your-own crops, and wineries across the State. Farmers across the Garden State self-populate this website to indicate their location, what they offer, and other important information needed before visitors come to the farm. Additionally, many county economic development departments in New Jersey are creating their own local tourism maps that include local farms with public offerings.
Being on a working farm can result in some wonderful experiences and lasting memories. Farmers do their best to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for visitors. However, visitors must do their part to ensure a safe farm visit. Wearing proper clothing and shoes and bringing weather protection (sunscreen, hats, rain ponchos, etc.) can be key to an enjoyable experience. Hiking boots will help you trek through a field while carrying a pumpkin better than Stiletto heels will. Also, monitor children and clean and sanitize hands after activities, especially when around farm animals.
As the fall season approaches, so too do the opportunities for enjoying the Garden State’s agritourism venues and experiencing the beauty and bounty of our state’s farms.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Gardener News.