For many, watching Billy Crystal in the 1991 film City Slickers was the first and only experience of agritourism. A world of horses and hay, farms and dude ranches, unknown to city dwellers.
Much has changed in the past two decades. Going to a farmer’s market has gone from “what’s a farmer’s market?” to the cool, new thing to do, to just the regular thing to do. Youth are giving up “real” jobs to learn how to farm and community gardens have become as big a thing as the World War-era Victory Gardens.
With the growing interest in farming comes a growing interest in exploring farms. Agritourism includes the dude ranches the city slickers went to, but encompasses any form of agricultural tourism.
Agritourism can mean a heavy level of involvement, by taking part in the Willing Workers on Organic Farms program (WWOOF), a volunteer organization that links eager volunteer agriculture labourers with farms. In this work exchange, WWOOFers get free room and board in return for a few hours of labour a day. Volunteers get to learn farming skills, meet new people and enjoy a cheap way to travel, all at the same time.
On the other end of the spectrum, guests can check into a B&B on a farm and do nothing at all but walk around the gardens and eat farm-fresh food. In the middle lie a range of options from working a little bit in the garden to participating in agritainment, such as picking your own fruit, going on hay rides and taking little ones to petting zoos.
Farming is an incredibly unstable business, subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Even as food prices rise, farmers rarely benefit. Opening up to tourism is a way for them to diversify their operation and make money even in the worst of droughts.
Agritourism is particularly popular in Italy, the birthplace of slow food, an international movement that advocates an alternative to fast food in which local food traditions are kept alive and strong. Cooking and wine are central to Italian culture, making an agri-tour in Italy well worth the trip. The wine tourism industry is well-established in Italy and is a large part of the agriturismo scene. So to balance out all that wine and food consumption, wellness opportunities (massage, aromatherapy, ozone baths) and sporting activities (mountain biking, trekking, horseback riding) abound.
More than half the world’s population live in cities. The skills required to be self-sufficient are quickly becoming lost with each successive generation. Even just a few days on a farm can reconnect anyone from the truly city slick to the agri-curious to our traditional way of life—lifetimes of tradition that are well worth experiencing, learning and passing along to future generations.
For more information and to book your own agri-tourism adventure, check out:
Read a personal experience about WWOOFing in SUSTAINABLE SANCTUARY: Living off-grid and in tune with nature
image: MarkN (Creative Commons BY-SA)