By Staff Writer Brendan Pringle.
As a “starving student” studying abroad in Italy, I unfortunately discovered agritourism just a little too late. I heard of this type of accommodations on previous occasions, but always assumed it equated to hard labor and barn housing. This assumption quickly faded when a Pugliese agriturismo defined one of my most memorable experiences abroad.
While on vacation in Salento, the very heel of “the boot”, I passed countless small agriturismi in some of the most scenic lands of the country. One afternoon, I finally decided to hop off my bike and talk to the owner of a quaint little place called Podere San Michele.
The owner didn’t have time for an interview, but instead sat me down at the wide patio, and served me a five-dish antipasto of Pugliese delicacies with food grown from around the corner. I was just about to thank him and depart, when he served me a main plate (primo piatto), soon followed by three more plates. With a full stomach I looked out into the open fields from my seat, and I realized the beauty of agriturismo. In this natural environment, I felt completely at ease, and thoroughly refreshed. This short experience granted me a more profound respect for the traditions of old and the pleasure of idyllic life. There is something refreshing about the open land and clean air makes for a rejuvenating vacation.
For small, family-owned farms, agritourism is a way to survive amidst “growing” competition from large-scale farms. The international trade market further contributes to this competition, as food production is now being “outsourced” to distant locations. This provokes curiosity about how crops and livestock are grown or raised. By visiting these agricultural areas, consumers can receive an educational- as well as recreational- experience.
While fruit stands and farmers’ markets seem to be the most popular form of agritourism in the states, farm-owners are increasingly turning to the hospitality industry to supplement income and provide an unforgettable opportunity for their visitors—that of experiencing “Green Acres” at their own comfort level.
Italy surely did not invent this type of agritourism, but it may have set the definitive model. In the years following WWII, many southern farmers left their farms and pursued more profitable industrial work in northern towns. However, the Italians never lost respect for the agricultural traditions of the past and the value of small scale food production. With the tourism industry always booming in Italy, many wise farmers decided to capitalize on their lifestyle, and probably evade some taxes as well.
These rural locations have been developed into “splendid countryhouses,” from rustic cottages to fully-furnished 5-star hotels. Even better, nightly rates at even some of the most luxurious destinations are much cheaper than any 5-star hotel in the city.
With every diverse region (and province), different crops are produced by some of the most sustainable, age-old methods. From wine and olives in Tuscany to mozzarella di bufala campana in Campania, it’s all a matter of taste. While at an agritourismo, one may encounter rustic cucine with lessons on how to make tagliatelle pasta by hand like a true nonna, or have the opportunity to press the grapes at a small vineyard in Chianti.
And if you really want to stay green, save the airplane fuel and find an agritourism destination in your own backyard. Agritourism is becoming a major trend in the US with farms trying to boost income amidst economic crisis. California, the nation’s largest agricultural state has emerged as a leader in this trend with approximately “700 farms averaging more than $50,000 in agritourism.” As Kim A. Rogers, a Templeton, CA farmer turned bed-and-breakfast owner notes, “A lot of people just want that rural farm experience.”
California is also perhaps one of the pioneers in American agritourism. After all, Knott’s Berry Farm wasn’t always a world-famous amusement park. Knott’s rapid transformation from berry farm to theme park (while still maintaining its agricultural roots) is one of the greatest success stories of agritourism history.
I personally find something special about helping out the “little man”, and agritourism provides a second wind to small farmers who would perhaps otherwise lose their farms due to corporate competition. The loss of small farm values and traditions would be detrimental to our society. As President Thomas Jefferson once said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens . . . [They are] the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”
Go green on your next vacation, and support a local farmer at the same time. By supporting small farmers through agritourism, we are truly creating a more “sustainable” tourism economy in all senses of the word.
Here are a few resources available in selecting agritourism destinations: