When AgriTourism Brings You Home
This summer, my partner Adam read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to our 4-year-old son. As Yves fell under the story’s spell, I remembered that L. Frank Baum made metaphor of something darker than Dorothy’s tornado—the plight of farmers during 1893’s recession. We see this most simply in the Wicked Witches oppressing the Munchkins and Winkies, just as 1890s banks foreclosed farm upon farm, selling to corporate enterprises more likely to survive recession.
Might things have been different had the era been ripe for agritourism?
In Walpole, New Hampshire, a farm and inn welcome visitors to come for a tour, stay for vacation, or even plan a destination wedding. In the mornings, guests are welcomed to join in 7am chores, followed by a farm-to-table breakfast. They might instead sleep in and take an afternoon walk to Alyson’s Orchards for heirloom fruits—or to Graves Brook Farm for raw milk. If it’s the weekly chicken harvest, visitors may help with animal processing, or they could explore Monadnock Valley’s artisan-businesses before returning to shop the farm store and relax by the gardens—to be farm tourists.
You can be this agritourist at Jackie Caserta’s The Inn at Valley Farms and her brother Chris Caserta’s Walpole Valley Farms. Naming their work is Gail McWilliam Jellie, Director of NH’s Division of Agricultural Development: “Agritourism invites people to farms to enjoy the environment of farms.” Outlined in NH agricultural-statute since 2007, agritourism now sits under agricultural-marketing. This 2016 resectioning responded to recent public disputes over what parameters local jurisdiction can place on agritourism, from U-Picks to farm-weddings. Yet the revision remains free of agritourism examples because, Gail observes, “Agritourism is a creative industry, and no one wants to stifle that.”
The Casertas’ agritourism sits on 105 acres that were once a dilapidated dairy farm, just down the road from where they grew up. In 1998, the siblings’ parents bought the property expressly to preserve its open space. It held a 1774 colonial, a second house a half-mile off, two barns, and farm-hand quarters.
An avid gardener, Jackie immediately began certifying the property organic amidst raising kids and renovating the 17-room colonial into a B&B. Using her experience as a recycling-specialist, she shaped green lodging that today includes three elegant rooms in the colonial, two three-bedroom cottages, and a three-bedroom farm house converted from the old farm-hand quarters. Jackie and her husband Tim, an HVAC technician, keep the property pristine and present B&B guests with a daily three-course breakfast of the farm’s produce, eggs, and pasture-raised meats, all sourced just steps from the dining table.
By 2005, Chris and his wife Caitlin made the second house their home. A financial planner when he read Omnivore’s Dilemma that year, Chris left his job to train with renowned sustainable farmer Joel Salatin. After this watershed experience, he and Caitlin, a former high school French teacher, decided to raise their family alongside their meat. Today, these local-food-lovers practice intensive grazing rotation of their broiler chickens, turkeys, cows, and heritage pigs. On summer Thursdays, they serve these grass-fed hamburgers and hotdogs at the farm’s weekly movie night. Lawn games and BBQ start at 5pm, and by 7pm, a crowd of 60-100 picnickers find seating in a renovated hay mow for the family-friendly feature.
Jackie explains that without their special offerings and events, these two farming families would have struggled to survive 2008’s recession: “Agritourism saved us—allowed us to thrive in a different way. But it’s not just about turning profit. It’s about creating a farm-based livelihood that is part of the community.”
Nada Haddad knows well this farmer-community connection. A Food and Agricultural Field specialist, she designed with her colleagues the curriculum of the UNH Agriculture & Natural Resources Business Institute and is one of its instructors. A 13-week course, ANRBI’s research-based guidance helps farmers create personalized agritourism plans. Haddad sees more farmers than ever embracing this process for good reason: “Agritourism addresses the needs of not only growing and raising product, but of being able to sell the product and the experience of the product.”
The experience. Brooklyn wedding guests pet baby chicks all afternoon. Boston-area parents arriving at night excitedly unload their kids. Guys, look at the fireflies! At the breakfast table, a cracked-open egg reveals a saffron yoke. A zebra tomato flashes uncanny stripes. Why can’t we get these at the store?
Jackie loves the democracy of it all: “Suddenly, guests understand they have access to variety and transparency, and agritourism gives them the right to this knowledge.” She treasures too the rediscovered pace and texture: “Farming lost a generation of people who have nostalgia for farming but no farm they any longer belong to. Agritourism brings back these memories and provides a place to touch them again.”
Dorothy said it. There’s no place like home-on-the-farm.