Nonprofit releases guide encouraging farmers to tap into tourism

Nonprofit releases guide encouraging farmers to tap into tourism

News Type: State Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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A regional organization has released a first-of-its-kind guide intended to help farmers and ranchers turn a profit from travelers.

AERO, a sustainability nonprofit based in Helena, released the guide this week following a survey of its 600 members that showed an increased interest in agritourism — business that connects agricultural production with tourism to attract visitors.

Practically speaking, this translates to activities such as the corn maze in Churchill or the u-pick berries at Rocky Creek Farm. The AERO report lists a handful of farms across the state currently engaged in agritourism, including a farm-to-table dinner at B Bar Ranch in Emigrant and a “fork to farm” bicycle tour of several farms in the Bitterroot Valley.

More than 33,000 farms offered some sort of agritourism opportunity in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There’s a real creative opportunity here for folks; agritourism can be very diverse,” said AERO program manager Kaleena Miller.

The guide, which includes a list of resources for farmers and ranchers interested in adding tourism-related activities to their operations, is meant to give producers another potential source of revenue.

“We’re looking to support producers in the state. That’s what our first goal is,” Miller said. “But it’s mutually beneficial in terms of the diversification of their markets, contributing to the local economy and consumer education. That leads to building more community and connecting folks face to face.”

Out-of-state visitors spent more than $3 billion traveling in Montana in 2016, according to the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.

Statewide, agriculture generated roughly $4.6 billion in revenue in 2015, according to the USDA.

“There is huge potential for Montana farmers and ranchers to utilize agritourism as a way to add revenue to their operation and to educate the public on all agriculture has to offer our great state,” said Alan Merrill, president of the Montana Farmers Union, in a release.

Earlier this year, state legislators passed a bill reducing the liability of farm owners when using their land for agritourism, and Miller said there are plenty of other ways to encourage the relatively new industry.

The AERO guide notes that the state should take steps to address farm education, using farms as scenic destinations and the labor laws surrounding volunteer programs such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

“It’s a guide that will be updated in the future because the industry is so young in Montana,” Miller said, “but it’s one way to get the conversation started.”