Corn mazes and pumpkin patches provide additional revenue and interest on farms across West Virginia when harvest time has long past.
But other agri-tourism opportunities exist, as a group of West Virginia producers found out during a four month class that culminated on a two-day bus tour to Virginia and North Carolina this spring…
Tour participants were interested in implementing agri-tourism on their own farms.
“Farms can provide an experience that travelers are looking for,” said Cindy Martel, marketing specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. “It’s ripe for tourism. People want to learn about where their food comes from.”
There was one stop in Virginia and stops in the Triangle area of northeast North Carolina — Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.
A research farm in Raleigh that doubles as festival grounds was one of the stops, along with a corn maze, a large produce wholesaler and a farmer’s market that hosts an onsite kitchen. Another stop included Celebrity Dairy, an agri-tourism operation in Silver City, North Carolina, that has an inn with bed and breakfast-style lodging, a goat farm and customized catering.
Participants learned to think in terms of “clustering” themselves together when possible, with several attractions in one area being more likely to draw tourists than a singular one.
Lisa Sickler, owner of Sickler Farm in Barbour County, was one of the participants in the classes who also took the trip south. Her farm regularly hosts hay rides and a pumpkin patch for families, scouts or school field trips each October.
But she is willing to look for even more opportunities year-round, and she said the class encouraged participants to continue opening their farms to the public.
“It was very neat to listen to other people’s ideas, and what their plans are for agri-tourism,” Sickler said. “We need to work together. We’re not competitors, we’re cooperating. We need to help each other out.
“I’m not going to take business away from a dairy farm, because we don’t offer that. But people may want to come here and pick pumpkins and mums and go visit their farm. It was great to connect to the others.”
The concept of clustering was definitely one that Sickler caught hold of, she said.
“The tour inspired me to look for other attractions in our area where we could draw people into Barbour County to see all that we have to offer,” Sickler said. “We have some bed and breakfasts in Arden, by the river. Down the road from us, we have a community center that has hostel-type lodging. There is a deer farm in Arden and we have a friend that has a 1,000-acre cattle farm close by.
“We want to host a farm-to-table dinner in our greenhouse so we can get people to experience what it’s like to have a dinner that is all locally sourced.”
That tourists would be interested in coming to a working farm still seems far-fetched, Sickler said, but it’s something she is growing to accept, she said with a laugh.
“It’s amazing that people want to come to your farm, spend money at your farm and work on it — it just blows your mind,” said Sickler. “They’re willing to spend a weekend on a farm vacation, working for a weekend or during harvest time.”
Food awareness is a growing trend, with consumers wanting to eat local and support local farmers…