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Ag Tourism Touted as Way to Boost Rural Economies

Friday, August 15, 2014

Article by abc News

With its sweet fruit-flavored liqueurs, a working farm and eccentric cast of characters— including a dancing lemon — Bloomery Plantation Distillery has attracted tourists from every U.S. state and countries as far away as Laos and Iceland.

The West Virginia mini-distillery is part of a growing agriculture tourism trend that advocates say can help revive struggling rural economies. Ag tourism refers to working farm enterprises geared to visitors, encompassing farm stands, pumpkin patches, barn dances, zip-line rides, pick-your-own berries, corn mazes and even weddings.

Farms engaging in ag tourism generated roughly $700 million in 2012 — a 24 percent increase over five years, according to the most recent U.S. Agriculture Department statistics. But that's still a sliver compared to some other, more traditional forms of tourism; for example, visitors to national parks spent about $14.6 billion in communities within 60 miles last year.

Ag tourism is one of agriculture's fasting growing sectors, said Kelly Smith, marketing and commodities director at the Missouri Farm Bureau. The bureau and the state Department of Agriculture recently hosted an ag tourism conference in Kansas City, where there was particular interest in weddings on farms and farm-to-table dinners, where food grown by a farmer is served at a meal on the farmer's property.

"Many farmers are looking to add revenue streams to their farms," Smith said.

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