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Agritourism: Fun on the Farm

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - May 26, 2014





Produce

Local produce at the NH Farm Museum in Milton. (Courtesy Photo)

“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.”

                                                             —George Washington

Had George Washington looked far into the future, he would have seen that his thoughts would still hold true these many years later. Today, farming is a big part of the nation’s economy and, in New Hampshire, it has merged with tourism to create a fairly new term called agritourism.

From country agricultural fairs to farm hayrides to pick-your-own berries and pumpkins, shopping at farmer’s markets and dining at farm-to-table events, farming has never been more popular with tourists and local residents.

Just what is agritourism? According to a State of New Hampshire definition, the term means “attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education on farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation.”

“Agritourism has really been around for decades,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of Agricultural Development at the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food. Gail should know because she has been an advocate of agriculture in the state and she knows a lot about promoting farming and its many aspects.

She is aware that visitors have long been attracted to farms, whether to stop at a roadside stand for fresh corn or to watch a farmer harvesting a crop in days gone by, or to watch a skilled farm hand milking a cow.

“The movement is very beneficial to tourism: If visitors are not knowledgeable about farming, they find it attractive to learn more. Visiting a farm for a tour, for a hayride or other activity, brings back fond childhood memories for many. It has been one of the many draws to the state,” she added.

Agritourism can be as simple as a farm inviting the public to take advantage of pick-your-own strawberries or other fruits and vegetables. It can be a corn maze in the late summer/fall or a chance to buy a pumpkin and take a hayride on a farm, or pet charming farm animals or having the chance to milk a cow.

If you have never done any of these things, it can be a powerful, positive experience to walk the farm’s fields, meet cows and other farm animals up close, and to talk with the farm’s owners about their work and lifestyle.

Added to this, the push for eating healthier, homegrown foods attracts visitors to agritourism. The farm-to-table movement has exploded in New Hampshire and many restaurants now serve meals with local, farm-fresh produce and meats.

“Early on, farmers got involved in getting visitors to their farms for a special event, but now agritourism is a continuous, big way to generate income for many farms, such as guests paying to participate in a corn maze or to pick fresh strawberries,” said Gail.

Tai Freligh, speaking for the Office of NH Tourism, agrees. He works with farms to generate wine-and-cheese and brewery tour maps, among other marketing initiatives to promote agritourism. “The activities centered around farming in the state of New Hampshire, such as tours, farm-to-table events, and farm programs where people can actually milk a cow, taste the food, and get out on a farm, are very popular,” he says.

To underscore the growth of agritourism, Tai noted that the first wine-and-cheese tour map the state produced had about 14 locations; there are now at least 25 locations on the map.

“Agritourism has been a big thing in the state for at least six years, if not longer. It continues to grow,” he said.

The Lakes Region is a big agritourism part of the state, with a number of farms offering activities that allow visitors to experience many aspects of life on a farm.

Gail says that the last census, in 2007, saw 88 farms in the state, which was up substantially from the prior census numbers. Along with the increase in the number of farms come more and more agritourism activities to help the economy.

At Moulton Farm, located on Quarry Road in Meredith, there are a number of popular activities that draw visitors from spring through autumn. A wonderful event to get youngsters involved in the farm experience is the Little Sprouts Garden Club at Moulton Farm. Once a month, from June through September, children between the ages of five and nine can go into the farm’s fields to explore how food grows. During each session, children search for and pick the ripe vegetable or fruit being explored that day. They also get to bring their bounty home to show off and eat. The experience teaches children about gardening methods, insects, worms, watering, the sun, and more. While many children come for each of the four sessions during the growing season, the activities are planned so children who come only one time still learn and have fun.

Also at Moulton’s, the entire family can get involved in farming with the Community Gardening program. According to information on the farm’s website, those who do not have time or space for a small garden can take advantage of five plots of garden space at Moulton’s. Each area is designated for the season to plant what items a family may wish to grow. It is a great way to experience first-hand what is involved in getting those wonderful and healthy vegetables to the dinner table. The farm sells starter plants and other gardening items at a 10 percent discount for the plot only.

Moulton Farm’s “Produce for the People Program” allows participants to plant one row of vegetables in their plot that will be harvested and donated to a local food pantry of choice.

The corn maze in late summer is a popular attraction at Moulton Farm, as are the many cooking classes and gardening workshops that take place at the farm stand during the summer and fall seasons, leading right up to the Christmas holidays. Call Moulton Farm at 603-279-3915 for information.

Walker Farm on Smith River Road in Bristol has been a family-owned and -operated farm for many years. The farm stand and events at Walker Farm are popular in the Newfound Region, offering fresh garden produce and maple syrup as well as cut flowers.

“We have hayrides to the pumpkin field on weekends in October,” said Sandy Walker. “We also participate in the Maple Sugar Weekend every spring with an open house.”

Walker Farm has a small petting zoo that offers children a chance to get an up-close look at charming farm animals. In season, the corn at the farm finds loyal customers returning again and again for fresh sweet corn and other vegetables.

Beans & Greens Farm on Intervale Road in Gilford offers a lot for visitors. From a well-stocked bakery and farm stand with fresh vegetables in season to outdoor music in the farm’s pavilion, something is always going on at the popular location. (Not to mention the tasty corn available in season.)

The Beans & Greens Farm Healthy Harvest Subscription is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Participants select the items and quantities whenever they want them. Whenever subscribers shop at the farm, they may select from Beans and Greens meats and vegetables (in any amounts they wish) and use the money in their account to pay for them at the register.)

With an emphasis on agritourism, the many events at Beans & Greens offer opportunities for families to get involved in farm life. July is full of events at the farm stand, from Kid’s Day on the Farm (with free tractor-drawn hayrides, animal petting area, and activities for children) on June 29 to a pig roast and dance on July 4; a barbecue and burgers and live music event on July 6; July 12 Caribbean Night on the Farm, and the popular July 23 Farm to Table Dinner in the Field event. Other events take place throughout the summer and fall; visit www.beansandgreensfarm.com.

If the farm tour visits and farm stands aren’t enough for those who want more farming fun, head to the NH Farm Museum in Milton where everything farm-related offers many hands-on experiences, as well as a good dash of New Hampshire farming history.

The museum has an extensive calendar of summer and fall farming events, including NH Dairy Day on June 21 with many hands-on activities; Children’s Days on the Farm on July 12 and 13; Farm Adventure Day Camps during the summer; Old Time Farm Days on Aug. 23 and 24; a Sept. 21 Great NH Pie Festival; and Farm Harvest Day on Oct. 4. Call the museum at 603-652-7840.

The Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth offers many farm-related activities for families, from barnyard basics to hearthside dinners. Call 603-323-7591.

“The many yearly agricultural fairs in New Hampshire are a big component of agritourism,” Gail added. The popular fairs allow visitors to purchase farm produce, jams and jellies, baked goods, and crafts, as well as to watch tractor and oxen pulls, pet farm animals and talk with farmers.

These many years later, the sentiments of George Washington are still true. Times may have changed and the world has become a faster-paced place. All the more reason to make a trip to a farm, or a farm-to-table dinner, or a wagon ride, high on the priority list for a summer vacation to the Lakes Region. 

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