In the summer, roadside stands full of seasonal produce and signs pointing to “pick-your-own berry” fields line North Carolina country roads. Hayrides and pumpkin patches are a fall staple. These farm activities make for a fun Saturday with the family or a bucolic addition to an Instagram grid. For many farmers, however, they are the legs they stand on. Agriculture is a big industry in North Carolina, yet an increasing number of small farms cannot afford to engage in only crop or livestock farming. With agritourism, small farms diversify their business models and protect themselves from unforeseen problems.
The term “agritourism” blankets a variety of experiences that farms offer the public. Agritourism includes farmers markets, tours, pick-your-own experiences, festivals, event hosting and farm stays. Annie Baggett is the agritourism marketing specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She says that small-scale agriculture is about anticipating the next big thing, and a varied income allows farmers to stay out of the red if something fails.
Charity Moretz runs a family farm with her husband in Ashe County. When they first started five years ago, they anticipated that agritourism would comprise a small percentage of their business model. Now it is the centerpiece. They listed rooms in their farmhouse on Airbnb and host large farm suppers. They raise livestock too, but cannot afford to raise the animals to market. Moretz says that because of government subsidies driving down the cost of meat, they have to sell their livestock to confinement farms.
Jim Hamilton is a faculty member at NC State and the county extension director and extension agent of agriculture for Watauga County. He helps small farms stay out of the red. While agritourism stabilizes finances, it opens farms to liabilities. Fully-operational farms can have dangerous equipment and animals for the inexperienced farm tourist. Start-up costs prevent some farms from engaging in agritourism at all. Guest host Anita Rao talks with Baggett, Moretz and Hamilton about agritourism in North Carolina and its role for small farms and the public.