Farm and Food Tourism as a Strategy for Linking Rural and Urban Land, People and Place: The Case of Western North Carolina

Leah Greden Mathews[1]

Department of Economics, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina, USA


Tourism takes many forms and some are better than others at promoting local economic development and providing links between rural and urban constituencies. Many rural communities have agricultural fairs and festivals celebrating local products that draw tourists and residents alike. It is quite common for tourist boards to develop themed ‘trails’ related to food and agriculture, such as Oregon’s Hood River County Fruit Loop ( and Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail ( Rural destination sites also abound, including casual farm dinners, overnight farm stays and corn mazes. While all of these activities have the potential to assist visitors in finding attractions that appeal to their sensibilities, in some cases they may not be effectively embedded in the region’s natural or cultural resources or provide for much mixing of rural and urban experiences or local residents and visitors.

Oliver and Jenkins (2005) define integrated tourism as ‘tourism that is explicitly linked to the economic, social, cultural, natural and human structures of the localities in which it takes place. In practical terms, it is tourism that has clear connections with local resources, activities, products, other production and service activities, and a participatory local community’. (p. 27). A genuinely integrated tourism will, therefore, be effectively embedded in place, or inextricably linked both physically and culturally with the resources and enterprises that are found in a specific geographic location. A place-based tourism is not likely to be replicated precisely in another location or exported; it can both reinforce regional identity and contribute to regional economic development. As a result, a place-based integrated tourism is more likely to support economic, environmental and social sustainability. Thus farm and food tourism has the potential to offer a form of sustainable integrated tourism because it has both the appeal and the durability of being truly place based.

The farm and food tourism sector - which combines culinary and agritourism - merges elements to create both attractive and effective locally based tourism: commodity and culture, rural and urban, natural and built environments, foreign and domestic visitors and local residents. When authentically derived, it is inherently embedded in place, offered by local entrepreneurs who provide a ‘from-the-ground-up’ community development mechanism that is attached to the heritage and traditions of the region, both historical and contemporary.

A successful farm and food tourism strategy will have cross-over appeal that is multi-directional and multi-modal: rural residents and visitors participate in urban food and farm-related activities while urban residents and visitors enjoy rural activities. This multi-directional flow of goods, services, people and tourist activity reinforces the integration of rural and urban sectors that strengthens the community and the economy of the region.

One region in which all of these characteristics appear is Western North Carolina (WNC). Using an instrumental case study approach, this chapter unpacks the integrated system of farm and food tourism in WNC into its constituent elements to better understand how its place-based tourism links rural and urban constituencies, forging relationships between its land and resources, people and places.

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