Vermont farms turn to tourism to boost revenue
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Vermont farms are turning to tourism to pull in more money.
It could be a bed-and-breakfast, a vineyard, a farm store or even a pick your own fruit setup. Agritourism connects farms to people.
“Inviting the public to the farm, letting the public participate in farm activities,” said Mike Isham of the Isham Family Farm in Williston. “It might be going to a maple open house, it might be coming to pick blueberries, it might be something as simple as picking apples off a tree or cutting down a Christmas tree.”
Farmer Mike Isham and his wife, Helen Weston, say agritourism has just become a part of their model. They have even bolstered the farm to support weddings and now theater.
“That’s what you see behind us, our second year,” said Weston.
Coming soon to a farm near you-- two plays. A theater company is putting on “Pride and Prejudice,” and the Williston Community Theatre has a show scheduled next month.
In the spring, it’s maple syrup. In the summer, it’s berries. In the fall, it’s pumpkins and a corn maze. In the winter, it’s Christmas trees.
Although Isham loves the diversity his farm has grown, it’s not just for the aesthetic.
“You need to have a cohesive plan, have one activity lead to the next activity,” said Isham.
It’s changed the business model and a consistent stream of revenue not tied to product.
“It’s a really important diversification strategy for farm viability,” said Lisa Chase, with the UVM Extension.
The idea of agritourism goes back as far as agriculture itself, with the concept of communities gathering on farms.
Agritourism is a product of Italy’s struggling agriculture sector in the 1960s and ‘70s. Now, farms all over the world do it. Chase says it is proven effective if farms buy into the idea.
“I think the future is very bright for agritourism here in Vermont, and around the globe,” said Chase.
Vermont state leaders and the UVM Extension are leaning in, offering webinars, information or networking events.
Weston says the Williston community has stepped up to support them, and in turn, the farm has become a community hub.
Weston says as they continue to grow, it will have to stay that way.
“I really think we can be a leader in agritourism because we have the perfect storm for it,” said Weston.
This August, there is an International Agritourism Conference coming to Burlington.
“We’re going to be hosting a virtual agritourism networking session. It’s going to be on Zoom with breakout rooms, and we have facilitators from past webinar series. So for example, the facilitator when we talked about rural empowerment and women and youth, she will be facilitating a break-out room on that. We have regional planning and agritourism, a breakout room on that,” said Chase.
There have been 16 webinars to date. Click here for more information.
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