Researchers to create a roadmap for fostering successful agritourism enterprises

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of researchers led by a Penn State agricultural economist will receive $500,000 over three years to study agritourism in the United States and to develop research-based information and guidance for farmers looking to diversify their incomes through agritourism activities.

The goal of the grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to develop and disseminate practical information that will allow rural communities and owners of small and medium-sized farms to benefit from the growing consumer interest in on-farm experiences, said Claudia Schmidt, assistant professor of marketing and local/regional food systems in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Schmidt, who also is a NERCRD faculty affiliate, is leading the project team, which includes researchers from Penn State, the University of Vermont and Oklahoma State University.

“We know that agritourism can potentially help keep farms in business, but less than 1.5 percent of all U.S. farms engage in agritourism, and many report regulatory hurdles, lack of technical assistance and other barriers to entry or to expanding their operations,” Schmidt said. “Our goal is to develop a research-based resource for agritourism support organizations, such as agritourism associations, municipalities, conservation authorities, business chambers, destination marketing organizations and agritourism operators to help them navigate these barriers.”

While there is no generally agreed-upon definition of agritourism, it usually refers to activities that attract visitors to a farm, such as pick-your-own operations, farm stays, and other educational or entertainment-based ventures. It serves as a way for farm operators to diversify their incomes, said Schmidt.

The project will be the first to examine the laws, regulations and level of support for agritourism in each state and compare them with a set of economic indicators, thus revealing why some counties are more effective at supporting agritourism enterprises. The team also will use social network analysis to understand how agritourism operators interact with one another and supporting organizations.

“By studying such networks at different levels of formation or development, we expect to learn more about how they grow from loose groups of individuals into clusters functioning at intermediate levels and then high-performing and potentially world-class, branded regions, such as Napa Valley in California,” Schmidt said.

Based on the insights generated from the research, the team then will develop and pilot-test outreach materials for farmers, policymakers, agricultural lenders and insurers, and county, regional and statewide support organizations.

In addition to Schmidt, project team members from Penn State include Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD); Sarah Rocker, a postdoctoral scholar at NERCRD; Suzanna Windon, assistant professor of agricultural and extension education; and Jaqueline Schweichler, attorney at the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law. Also participating are Lisa Chase, extension professor at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center, and Stacy Tomas, assistant professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Oklahoma State University.

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