By Rebecca French Smith
Fall is a perfect time to learn about agriculture. Harvest is in full swing and farmers are bringing the last fruits and vegetables of the summer season to farmers’ markets, while some farmers are getting ready to host guests looking for an experience only agriculture can provide.
Across Missouri, farmers are opening their farms to guests not only during the fall but year-round. This time of year, pumpkin patches and corn mazes are busy making final preparations for guests to come gather their fall decorations or ingredients for their pumpkin desserts. Corn mazes will soon hear the squeals of children enjoying the twists and turns of the paths through the corn.
At other times of the year, u-pick berry patches, orchards and community-supported farms are busy sharing their harvest with their customers who want to pick their own food.
But food isn’t the only sort of agritourism found in the Show Me State. Horse rides, hay rides, Christmas trees, nurseries, wineries, on-farm bed-and-breakfasts and a host of other agriculture and rural experiences exist outside the city limits.
The idea of attracting visitors to the farm is not new. In the last two decades in Missouri, agritourism has become a more viable option as a new revenue stream for an existing farm or for new farmers looking to carve out a niche to support their families. According to the 2012 Ag Census, agritourism farms in Missouri grew from 588 farms in 2007 to 844 farms, a 43.5 percent increase, one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture. Farm income from agritourism also increased significantly in Missouri, from $7.7M to $10.5M.
The growth of agritourism was apparent during the recent festivities at the Fall Farm Festival at the Magic House in St. Louis, where we brought a little of the farm to town. Guests to the museum enjoyed learning about agriculture and interacting with dairy cows, sheep, donkeys, tractors and hands-on activities. Little fingers and little hands wrapped around orange construction paper and pipe cleaners that would become a pumpkin when they were finished, as Missouri Farm Bureau volunteers explained the connection that these activities had with farming.
At the pumpkin table, when I asked, most of the children knew how pumpkins grow — on the vine in the garden, of course. Many had been to a farm and picked out a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch.
Finding an agricultural experience is easy. You can put together a trip of your own and get more information on available opportunities at MOFB.org/MarketingCommodities/Agritourism.aspx.
Rebecca French Smith is a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Farm Bureau.