Farm Experiences: Agritourism and Agroecotourism

The following discussion of farm experiences is not intended to serve as an extrapolation of agritourism (and all of its derivatives) semantics, nor as a definition exercise. Instead this section is framed as a way of exploring the literature on how farm-based visits and activities can serve in connecting the visiting public with foodscapes, farming and food production with varying degrees of intensity. It is argued that these experiences may promote learning about the connection between climate change, sustainability and food production through exposure to time, seasonality and weather (Cavaliere, 2016). Holidays have changed and are now moving into the realm of physical, mental and even spiritual rejuvenation as people seek a better balance between themselves and nature. Increasing societal stress is creating the need for reflective retreats in natural environments (Gustafson, 2001). Farm-based experiences pull the visitor from indoors to the outdoors and into varying degrees of functioning nature- based ecosystems, depending on the type of farming that is being practised on the specific site.

For the purposes of this discussion, agritourism can be considered as any business conducted by a farmer for the enjoyment or education of the public, to promote the products of the farm and to generate additional farm income (Cavaliere, 2010). Agritourism can include a variety of facilities and activities such as agricultural festivals, farm visits, farm tours, demonstration farms, farm stays, wineries, nursery trails and agricultural museums. Often agritourism can be incorporated into rural tours that showcase agricultural production and operations (Timothy, 2005). Combining the tourism industry with the uniqueness and diversity of local agriculture has resulted in additional opportunities for farmers to diversify their operations and their revenue sources (Kline et al., 2016). Some benefits of agritourism can serve to generate diversification opportunities for local farmers to increase revenue and enhance the viability of their operations, and can be used as a tool to inform the public about the importance of agriculture (Phillip et al., 2010; Tew and Barbieri, 2012). Agritourism can also showcase the diversity of local agriculture, if there actually is a diversified product, improving the appeal of locally grown products, resulting in regional marketing programmes and public-private partnerships that can support and sustain the agricultural area (Phillip et al., 2010).

Agritourism (and agrotourism), a farm-based visit, can be considered a subset of rural tourism and yet can indeed occur in areas that are embedded within urban surroundings, such as is the case with the entire state of New Jersey. Schilling et al. (2006, p. 1) define agritourism ‘as the business of establishing farms as travel destinations for educational and recreational purposes’. Although in-depth typology is not the focus of this chapter, Phillip et al. (2010) have put forth a concise typology for agritourism that focuses on the relationship between tourists and their ‘contact to agricultural activity’. Their typology is constructed as the progression ranging from no contact with the farm to direct contact with farm work and with soil as follows: (i) non-working farm agritourism; (ii) working farm, passive contact agritourism; (iii) working farm, indirect contact agritourism; (iv) working farm, direct contact, staged; and (v) working farm, direct contact, authentic agritourism.

Holidays are generally much shorter for American workers than for those workers in other countries, and coupled with rising fuel costs and ideally a focus on reducing carbon emissions, local rural holidays are becoming more popular (Torres and Momsen, 2011). Torres and Momsen (2011) identify gaps in existing agritourism literature in that the large volume of it examines the economic components and contributions of the enterprise to the farm. Yet, the elements of the sociocultural and environmental dimensions of agritourism have garnered fewer studies (Barbieri, 2013). Barbieri’s examination of agritourism is more inclusive than most in that it utilizes the core pillars of sustainability and yet is situated from a neoliberal economic perspective. However, this is most likely due to the disconnection of sustainability dimensions from economic implications when examining tourism development (McAreavey and McDonagh, 2011). Barbieri (2013, p. 256) further explains:

A focus on the local dimension and the adoption of an inductive and actor-oriented approach are invaluable to uncover meanings that different segments of a population attach to their environment and to understand how these meanings inform different representations of the past and views of the future.

Agritourism is a niche market within tourism and is a form of development that, in the past, has provided an approach to rural improvement, where individual farmers and the farms can be considered as parts of development and therefore are not displaced as a result of development. Sonnino (2004, p. 297) recognizes three primary stakeholders in agritourism systems: agritourism providers, destination marking organizations and agritourists. Agritourism can demonstrate a literal and/or a symbiotic relationship between tourism and agriculture, and is commonly described as holidays on, or visits to, farmland. Forms of agritourism include holiday farms, farmhouse bed and breakfasts, farm camping, mountain resorts, equestrian centres and other varieties of rural accommodations (El-Hage Scialabba and Williamson, 2004). Along with generating employment and additional income for rural landholders or farmers, agritourism can allow for the exchange of agricultural practices, artistic heritage, craftsmanship and culinary traditions with visitors (El-Hage Scialabba and Williamson, 2004). There is a large market for agritourism guests from urbanized contexts because people are increasingly living in cities and in many cases are four generations away from agricultural activities and living on farms (Schilling et al., 2006; Tew and Barbieri, 2012). The intrinsic, transformative and socio-cultural components of agritourism hold value that is yet to be fully recognized or understood by increasingly urbanized, globalized and time-space-compressed societies.

Today, ecotourism is recognized as the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry, and with its continued growth comes an escalating debate regarding the definition of ecotourism. The meaning is continually addressed by researchers; however, the World Conservation Union developed an official ecotourism definition:

Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations. (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996, cited in Luck and Kirstges, 2003, p. x).

The connection between ecotourism and the slow travel movement is an important bridge that is discussed by Tribe (2009, p. 255), who argues that ‘slow ecotourism’ can more effectively link conservation, the tourism industry, communities and nature and that it can also increase localized economic stimulus through visitation. Farms that are implementing practices aimed at showcasing sustainability measures in both production and in operations can serve as modelling and learning forums related to climate change challenges for visitors (Cavaliere, 2010).

Ecotourism practices can foster transformations in ecological consciousness (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2009). Combining agritourism with ecotourism (agroecotourism) practices can be a way to approach the human-nature divide and secure more sustainable human-environmental relationships. It is crucial to note that, although ecotourism is promoted as a consumer choice that benefits conservation, it is indeed enmeshed in political choices and the organizations that promote it, placing it within dominant development theories and neoliberal economics (Duffy, 2012). Agroecotourism and permaculture sites often strive to include practices and activities that work with the local bioregion and involve local residents and visitors: accommodation in buildings renovated/built according to ecological architecture using natural materials and landscape planning; consumption and selling of organic foodstuff; educational programmes and training including organic gardening, compost making, wild herbs collection and drying, and traditional food and beverage processing; and sensitizing guests on rational use of natural resources and energy, for example solar energy and water re-use and recycling (El-Hage Scialabba and Williamson, 2004).

Onsite agroecotourism activities, as seen with many permaculture site operators, include visits to nearby protected areas, naturalistic didactical activities, tactile and demonstrative laboratories involving organic agriculture and the environment, and offer visitors instruments and equipment for the observation of fauna and flora. According to Cavaliere (2005), offsite permaculture activities included surrounding ecoagriculture private farms, protected areas, industrial farms (for comparison lessons) and visits to local communities. Environmental and cultural interpretation is a fundamental aspect of agroecotourism ventures operated on permaculture sites. Permaculture trainings result in internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificates (PDC) that are used by many homeowners and landscape architects. The emphasis on building strong global/local knowledge connections between international permaculture sites, permaculture trainers, and locals and tourists interested in permaculture is vital to the support of sustainable and low-impact communities (Cavaliere, 2005).

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