New Jersey farmers are a smart bunch. Ag census data shows our state ranks first nationally in the percentage of farm revenue earned from agritourism. When you think about the agricultural challenges in NJ, such as market competition, rising land and input costs, encroachment from sprawl, and a complex regulatory environment, this statistic becomes less surprising. In order to stay in business, farmers operating small and mid sized farms have had to look for ways to add value to their products. Farm life, as fewer people are engaged in it, turns out to be a product. It is something people are drawn to, even as urban & suburban lifestyles pull them further and further away from a tangible relationship with land and food. While the definition of agritourism continues to be debated, there is no debate that providing agritourism activities is beneficial to visitors, farmers, and communities alike.
Examples of Agricultural Tourism Activities
Rutgers NJAES studies have found that 1 in 5 NJ farms offer agritourism activities. These activities may include:
- On-farm direct-to-consumer sales (U-pick, U-cut Christmas trees, on-farm markets, Community Supported Agriculture - CSAs)
- Educational tourism (school or group tours, wine tastings, farm work experience)
- Entertainment (Hay rides, corn mazes, petting zoos, haunted barns)
- Farm accommodations (Birthday parties, group events, weddings, picnicking, bed & breakfasts)
- Outdoor recreation (horseback riding, hunting, fishing, bird watching)
Farmers and farm families may also participate in agricultural activities that are not physically based on their individual farms, such as:
Off-Farm Agricultural Tourism Activities
- Community Farmers' Markets
- Agricultural Fairs & Festivals
- Living History Farms & Museums
- School Enrichment Programs
Agritourism is Increasingly Popular
Some New Jersey farms utilize these activities to supplement farm income; for others it is the primary business focus. As a farmer, agritourism may allow you to generate additional income from farm assets that are under utilized; can help to diversify product lines and markets; allows direct feedback from consumers about preferences for products and services; and creates a “culture of understanding” for what it takes to be a commercial farmer – thus, reducing conflicts over farm practices and strengthening public support for the existence of farms.
Farms of all sizes need to take advantage of this form of marketing on some level. For small and medium farms the increase in profits can mean the difference between survival or failure. For large farms agritourism can offer marketing diversification as an alternative to competitive wholesale markets. For farms of all sizes, agritourism can lead to good neighbor relations and garner public support for farm retention policies. For these reasons Agritourism should, in some way, shape, or form, be a part of your operation. Agritourism is a sustainable practice.
Goals for NJ Agritourism
Despite the census data stating NJ farms are ranked first in the percentage of farm revenue from agritourism, the industry has yet to reach its full potential in our state. There is much to do:
- Researching accepted practices; defining markets; facilitating collaboration and encouraging entrepreneurship.
- Helping farm families transition from a wholesale to a hospitality business model; helping farmers understand risk management issues in agritourism enterprises.
- Informing and educating policy makers and economic development planners interested in the economic opportunities seen with agritourism; building consensus on regulatory issues to allow agritourism to flourish while being sensitive to public needs.
- Training agricultural professionals to convey methods discovered through scientific research that yield profitable, environmentally sound agricultural practices while managing financial risk.
- Raising consumer awareness about the benefits agritourism provides to their family and community.
Our goals at Rutgers NJAES are to find answers to these issues, to serve as a resource for Agritourism in New Jersey, and provide timely information as it becomes available to you - the farmer, agricultural educator, tourism professional, policy maker, development planner, or farm visitor.