In Vermont, tourists can visit several maple orchards, tour the facility that produces the famous maple syrup, and purchase farm produce. Farmers’ markets open every summer and fall across America, bringing fresh produce, eggs, milk, and meat straight from the farm to the consumer. And in the highlands of Colorado, ranchers guide athletes to some of the best fly fishing spots in America.
This is called agrotourism and is emerging as a viable complement to production agriculture.
According to the USDA National Library of Agriculture, agrotourism is “a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and / or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors to a farm, ranch or farm. other agricultural business for the purpose of entertaining and / or educating. visitors and generate income for the farm, ranch or business owner.
Agrotourism has been around for a long time. The dude ranch probably originated in the Dakotas in the mid-1880s; the first recorded ranch was near Medora, North Dakota, in 1884, owned by the Eaton brothers, Pittsburgh businessmen. The previous winter had been one of the harshest on record, devastating the herds of cattle in the open air. The Eatons bought a destroyed ranch and began offering hunting and fishing tours.
Most people think of “guest ranches” as places where townspeople ride gentle horses for rides through breathtaking scenery, but tourists are increasingly interested in experiencing the ranch way of life. . Cow-calf operations sometimes offer the option of participating in tagging in the spring, or just a week or two of work at the ranch from dawn to dusk.
But are there any agrotourism opportunities on working farms and ranches in northeast Colorado? According to a couple of experts in the field, the answer is definitely yes … but …
Marilee Johnson, director of public information and tourism for Logan County, said there are many opportunities and they should not be limited to agricultural production operations.
“Our region is ripe for (agrotourism),” Johnson said. “There is the benefit to the producer of additional income, there is the educational experience that links agriculture and tourism, and that promotes your product. “
Johnson said that two years ago, during a series of workshops on how to make Logan County a tourist destination, agritourism had become a possibility. She said there was already agritourism with corn mazes and pumpkin fields being fun places for family recreation. And the annual Sterling Sugar Beet Days and county fairs across the region are examples of agri-tourism that has been around for years.
Then there’s the Brompton family of Iliff, who still use oxen to do much of the work on their cattle and sheep farm. Because of their years of experience, the Bromptons are sometimes called upon to run clinics on their farm and help other ox owners in the training process. They also welcome agro-tourists in a spacious but spartan hut on the farm, and can accommodate up to nine visitors.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture website devotes an entire subsection to agrotourism with a long list of things that match the genre. Farm festivals, birding resources, corn mazes and pumpkin fields, county fairs, distilleries, wineries and breweries, and farm and ranch vacations are among the possibilities listed.
But, Johnson said, the impetus must come from the producers themselves.
“It’s kind of the hurdle we have to get over because the producers just don’t have time to show a group of tourists around their farms,” she said. “They really have to see a benefit for them.”
Johnson suggested that someone with agricultural contacts in the area could take over the project, relieving producers of the role of “tour guide” and organizing events and tours.
“Certainly (the county) could provide our expertise and advice, but it’s not something we could do full time,” she said.
Dennis Kaan, director of the northeast region of Colorado State University Extension, prepared a presentation on agrotourism several years ago and said there is still potential in this corner of the state.
“What we looked at years ago was the experience of living on a ranch,” Kaan said. “It tastes like mountain tourism, and there is an element of interest here.”
Kaan’s presentation, “Assessing Your Agrotourism Resources,” is a step-by-step guide for producers who wish to add tourism funds to their farm’s income stream. It describes the different types of activities that can generate new income, including demonstrations, exhibitions and conferences, festivals, alternative cultures and value-added products, among others.
Again, however, there are hurdles to overcome and the most important thing Kaan sees is accountability.
“The liabilities have become the most important thing that has become the obstacle to the realization of these plans,” Kaan said. “Bringing people onto private land is risky. “
Kaan agreed that someone who wishes to develop an agritourism program would relieve producers of much of the burden and could ease the liability issue. His presentation is still available on the Colorado Department of Agriculture website.
As enthusiastic as CDA is for agrotourism, it is true that tourism activity in agricultural land must be subordinate to primary farming / livestock farming. Allowing sightseeing, birding, hunting and fishing can never hinder the production of food and fiber. The word itself says it clearly: agri comes before tourism.