“Planners, regulators, naturalists, and environmentalists come to enjoy our rural nature agritourism amenities. Often their first comment is, ‘It’s beautiful, stop what you are doing.’ They forget it’s a working farm landscape! …that the presence of the beauty and diversity of wildlife they see is because of the farming going on, not in spite of it.”
– 6th generation NJ farmer who regularly conducts agritourism and nature tourism.
Entry into Agritourism is Complicated
Limited hospitality experience, limited investment capital, short supply of information, and a complex regulatory system impact farmers choosing agritourism. Virtually all farmers make progressive, multi-year evolving entries into agritourism. Sometimes, they conduct these activities for years before they unknowingly reach a point of being affected by particular planning policies or ordinances. They need help, not conflict.
Farm families who add agritourism ventures to their operations often feel overwhelmed by the myriad of ordinances and regulations that appear “unclear,” “not applicable to farms,” and “unnecessary.” They complain that officials don’t understand their family farms both as parts of the community landscape, and as rural recreation enterprises. Perceptions of powerlessness in farm families often leads to Impermanence Syndrome and results in farm failure.
Planners, municipal professionals, and policy makers, view regulations impacting agritourism operations as protecting community character, the environment, neighbors, customers, health and safety. While potentially confusing, frustrating, and costly to operators, the process is “important and necessary.”
Bridging the perception gap between agritourism operators and those who make and enforce policy is key for communities to retain and expand benefits from agritourism enterprises.
- Municipalities and counties benefit from recognizing agritourism, developing policy support for the operators, and helping agritourism applicants.
- Operators benefit by taking responsibility for improving the agritourism regulatory process and by improving their business planning.
- Train staff in specialized knowledge about agriculture.
- Write instructive and easy-to-read materials.
- Attempt to craft a straightforward, less expensive, timely, and flexible permitting and regulatory process.
- Assist applicants in navigating the planning and permitting and regulatory process.
- Assure farmers understand the criteria of a bona fide agricultural operation.
- Encourage operators to: start planning early since the process is long; maintain good neighbor relations; and have business plans.
- Make timely decisions. Farm families have risk capital, loans, and farm operations to manage. They cannot wait months or years for public policy to keep up with them.
- Be involved in agritourism promotion. Attempt to develop agritourism guidelines that are similar to other municipalities, counties, and states since farmers may participate in activities in adjacent regions.
- Recognize that many community conflict complaints about land use or ordinance violations usually have core properties rights conflicts (like view scape infringement) underlying the disputes.
- Look into the current approaches that affect the support of agriculture in your community by exploring
“Is your town farm friendly?”
Reference: Keith, D., E. Rilla, H. George, R. Lobo, L. Tourte, & R. Ingram. Obstacles in the Agritourism Regulatory Process: Perspectives of Operators and Officials in Ten California Counties. AIC Issues Brief No. 22, September 2003.