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'Come on Down," More Farmers Say

Agri-tourism is a growth industry for many state farms

By LINDA O'CONNELL

 

Agri-tourism is becoming an important revenue stream to farms.

STURBRIDGE, MA - “Agri-tourism” and “agri-tainment” are the buzz terms in the future of agriculture, judging from the success stories of a panel of farmers addressing the Harvest New England agricultural conference in Sturbridge, Mass., in February.

Connecticut’s Russell Holmberg of Holmberg Orchards said interest in visiting his farmstand, pick-you-own fields and farm winery in Gales Ferry has been skyrocketing. 

Last year, we hadn’t anticipated the kinds of crowds we were going to get during the harvest season,” he told the audience at the opening session on agriculture trends in New England. “What had been a couple hundred people a day grew to 5,000 people a day Columbus Day weekend.”

The good thing was Holmberg Farms is proving to be a powerful magnet for people looking for something to do. The bad news, Holmberg said, was that some people waited in line for 90 minutes to pay for their produce. He’ll be more prepared this year.

The other farmers on the panel echoed Holmberg’s experience, saying they were welcoming more and more people eager to share an agriculture-related experience with their families. Creating more opportunities for visitors is a way to grow a farm’s business, panelists said.

Agritourism and visitor activities “extend the life of the farm,” is how Meg Wilson, of DeMeritt Hill Farm in Lee, New Hampshire, put it.

Alongside its Orchard business, Meg has built a solid following among teachers for her educational school tours and has established her farm’s trail system as the home turf or a local school track team.  Her farm now takes advantage of its 120 acres by offering hiking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter.  She’s planning on flooding a parking lot for ice skating this season, she said.

And people can’t get enough of Meg’s cider donuts. She calls talking her husband into buying her a donut machine the best idea she ever had.

But, Aaron Delsignore of Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds, Maine, had the bright idea that grabbed the most attention among the audience. 

Delsignore said he and his wife, Carly, are always looking for ways to advance business on their farm and dairy, which dates back nine generations.  “We discovered we could dehydrate chicken feet in our greenhouse,” Aaron said to groans from the audience.  “We paint them as Christmas tree ornaments, and they come in package with a little story about how the chicken roamed the fields and fertilized them.

“We charge extra if you want the matching pair.”

Copyright 2008 SimonPure Productions, LLC

Working the Land: The Story of Connecticut Agriculture
is a Co-Production of
SimonPure Productions and Connecticut Humanities Council

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