Agritourism is becoming a popular way to supplement agricultural income and stimulate rural economies in the United States and in North Carolina. Types of agritourism could be on-farm visits and “farm stays,” educational field trips to farms, roadside produce stands, pick-your-own crops and more. These experiences help bring additional income to the farm and also help our population become better acquainted with how food is produced.
Some farms try agritourism and it becomes a major sources of income. I recently visited the Aceto Family on a study tour of southern Italy, who have been growing lemons on mountain terraces in Amalfi for many generations. They shared with us that a majority of the income from the farm now comes from agritourism, through a tour they call the Amalfi Lemon Experience and a shop that they market their homemade limoncello. Because of agritourism, they have been able to stay in business and secure the future of their family farm.
In Richmond County, we have the “World’s Largest Strawberry” — the Berry Patch. This is a great example of locating in a good area, providing a quality product and investing in good marketing. We have had great farm stands in the past as well, including Triple L Farms and David’s Produce. I think there is plenty of potential for additional agritourism with so many travelers passing through our county.
North Carolina State University Extension conducted a study among women agritourism operators in 2016 and published the interesting findings in the publication, “North Carolina Women’s Success in Agritourism: Turning Challenges into Opportunities.” While focusing on the unique role of women in this type of business it provides an understanding of the benefits of starting an agritourism aspect of the farm. Some of the successes in the article included: ensuring financial sustainability, having appreciative customers, creating a broad impact in society, gaining recognition and respect, pursuing happiness, perpetuating the family farm and more.
Farmers markets and festivals are other ways of celebrating farm products and giving the public an opportunity to support local farmers. While not bringing people to the farm, participants can still sample fresh produce and visit with the growers. The Richmond County Farmers Market Association operates three markets in Richmond County during the months of April to October. Last season it had two markets in Rockingham, Saturday and Wednesday mornings, and a Thursday evening market in Hamlet. The group will meet at 4 p.m. Feb. 19 at 123 Caroline Street to make plans for the 2018 season. Anyone interested in growing or crafting for the markets should plan to attend.
The Ellerbe Downtown Merchants Association is planning to highlight a beloved Richmond County crop through the Ellerbe Strawberry Festival for the first time this year. The festival will include street vendors, entertainment and lots of great strawberry activities. The date selected is May 12 and it will be held in downtown Ellerbe. Volunteers and sponsors are needed to make this first time festival a success! The group will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31 at Ellerbe Springs for its regular meeting and all are welcome to attend.
Susan A. Kelly is Richmond County director for the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Rockingham.