With the increased awareness of sustainability, health and the desire to become educated on where food comes from, agritourism is a growing travel trend.  More and more farmers are opening their doors to increased number of travelers who are seeking authentic culinary experiences that speak to our food origins. Better yet, finding cheap tickets to transport you to any of these farms is surprisingly simple. Christine Cole of Full House Farm acknowledges that while farmers are generally private, “we are trusting and generous and what we offer is an amazing gift…a reminder of our roots.”  Full House Farm, located in California’s Sonoma County, offers everything from vacation rentals to farm life tours and horse programs.

Photo:  J.K. Fearless

Agritourism is becoming so popular that even seasoned travelers purposeful seek out these opportunities.  As Andra Zeppelin, author of French Press Memos commented about her agritourism trip to Friuli, Northern Italy, “it was one of the best experiences we have had traveling.” Given the growing interest in agritourism and the economic impact that this trend offers communities, we have compiled a sample list of a few places where you can enjoy getting back to food basics.  This is not a comprehensive list so we invite you to share other events or community initiatives in the comment section below. Happy eating!!

1.   Richmond, British Columbia is home to 247 farms and holds near 35% of it land as an Agricultural Land Reserve. The area is Canada’s largest exporter of cranberries, and it offers multiple “u-pick” strawberry, blueberry and raspberry farms. Richmond boasts the lowest obesity rate in Canada at 5 per cent and attributes that to its healthy agricultural offerings and school programs like the Terra Nova Schoolyard Project founded by Chef Ian Lai.  One highly anticipated annual event in Richmond, BC is the Steveston Farmer’s & Artisan’s Summer Market. Steveston is a historic fishing village and during the summer the market offers local produce, homemade products, entertainment, family activities, and guests can purchase fresh fish right off the fishing boats as they come in.

2.  Oregon Agri-tourism is a hothouse of innovation, and the freshly-developed Oregon Farm Loops just outside Greater Portland, are heirloom examples. Clackamas County has nearly 4,000 farms – the most of any county in Oregon, making it a perfect spot to work the natural assets of the state. The successful Molalla and Sandy areas Farm Loops are part of an agri-tourism model that brings travelers to the area to visit and patronize local agricultural business–cheese mongers, wineries, nurseries, berries, etc.   Local chef Andrew Garrett has launched farm-to-table tours, utilizing the Farm Loop as a resource.

3.  The Sierra Oro Farm Trail in Northern California hosts an annual Passport Weekend every Columbus Day Weekend.  This event features nearly 30 specialty farms, boutique wineries and shops who are all open 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, offering tastings, tours and many other goodies including live music.

4.  A unique initiative, Outstanding in the Field, is one of the oldest farm dinner series in the U.S.  Sprouted in Santa Cruz, California in the late 1990s, Outstanding in the Field hosts 80+ farm dinners in North America.  As of September 2011, a big red bus with California license plates will roll off a ship from America, and chef/artist Jim Denevan and his Outstanding in the Field crew will climb in to head off on their first table-to-farm dinner tour of Europe.  The Farm Dinner tour will include dinner stops in Ireland, Wales, Denmark, Holland, Spain and Italy.

5.  The Sonoma County Farm Trail that has been in existence since 1973. They offer maps and guides that anyone can use to visit and tour the different types of agriculture, artisan producers and family farms. Additionally, the different regions around Santa Rosa have different soils and micro climates. Tourist can pick their region, product of interest or find specific farm trail members.   Additionally, the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail offers tours and tastings with cheese makers throughout the year.

6.  From star-studded food and wine events to art and musical extravaganzas or celebrated home-grown festivals, the legendary Napa Valley offers a bountiful list of signature world-class events and experiences that are fitting for travelers’ every seasonal desire.  A full calendar of year-round Napa Valley events and festivals can be found at www.legendarynapavalley.com.

7.  Colorado is quickly becoming a popular agritourism destination; particularly in the Durango Area. Agriculture in the heart of the Durango community and boasts a plethora of farmers, ranchers and manufacturers and agritourism offerings—all which can be found in their Durango Area Agritourism Map.  Durango will soon be modeling new agritourism events after Italian agritourism experiences that are more rooted in local & national culture. The Colorado Tourism Office recently launched the Colorado Agritourism initiative—a resource that encourages visitors and Coloradans to experience the state’s agricultural heritage by visiting agritourism events and activities.

8.  Michigan is number two only behind California in agriculture diversity in the U.S.  There are more than 80 commercial wineries located across the state; many of them are organized along Wine Trails that host special events throughout the year. Some of the wine trails include:  Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Additionally, one of our favorite destinations in the state, Traverse City, will be hosting an EPICUREAN CLASSIC, September 8-11, 2011.  This event is a celebration of artisan foods and beverages with tastings, seminars, demos, cookbook authors and a bicycle tour past vineyards, farms, and orchards followed by a BBQ of local foods. Traverse City, located in Northwest Michigan on the Lake Michigan shore, is known for its cherries and wines as well as great restaurants.

9.  On September 17, 2011, the city of Quitman, Georgia is hosting the inaugural Brooks County Skillet Festival.  This food and arts festival will highlight the area’s abundant agriculture and fine southern cuisine and our plan is to make this an annual event.   Farmers and artisans within a 100-mile radius will be the only participants, thus keeping the Festival local and authentic. The day’s events will include the Cast Ironman 5k, food & arts vendors on the historic courthouse square, a skillet toss, The Cast Iron Chef veggie carving competition, and an evening of music with local musicians.   This focused “farm & food” approach is a perfect fit for the county which was once known during the Civil War as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy”.

10.  The Old Tavern at Grafton Inn, located in southern Vermont (part of the nonprofit Windham Foundation, whose mission is to promote Vermont’s rural communities), offers a Southern Vermont Cheese Tour package.  Between September 5-8, 2011, the Southern Vermont Cheese Tour will offer guests an opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and experience cheese making first-hand with Grafton Village cheese makers. The package includes: welcome wine and cheese tasting reception, visit to three acclaimed farmstead cheese makers in Southern Vermont, accommodations and meals.  Cost is $1025 per couple and $775 for single.

Photo:  Jody Holman Webster

11.  The Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market has used the agritourism model to make its small rural market one of the best in the country. Considered one of Connecticut’s best farmers market, each market day during the 22 week summer season is organized around an agricultural theme. For example, one event this year– WHAT WHEAT WHERE — celebrated the resurgence of wheat growing in New England.  Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market has been described as a “country fair every Sunday” and New England Travel Magazine calls it “Connecticut’s preeminent farmers’ market.”

12.  The Olney Farmers and Artists Market is the brainchild of Olney resident Janet Terry. Janet was inspired by her visits to the outstanding Farmers Market in Charleston, South Carolina.  There is good diversity among the food and artists and the entertainment and chef’s demonstrations are also attractive.  In fact, former White House Chef Charlie Redden is among the many talented chefs who have offered a demonstration.  Aligned with its mission to “give back” the Olney Farmers and Artists Market has developed several community-based partnerships, including one with Montgomery General Hospital.  In continuing with its focus on health and fitness, the market now offers wellness activities like yoga, acupuncture, massages and health screenings at the “Be Fit, Be Well” tent during the season.  The Market has also established a partnership with the Manna Food Center, which distributes food to the county’s needy.

13.  In July, Loudoun County Virginia hosts Farm-to-Fork Loudoun.  This event showcases award-winning wines and spirits from 11 local vintners, and rich rural heritage from 17 Loudoun County Farms.  Guests will be able to enjoy Loudoun food and wines from 21 culinary sites and restaurants around the county.  Each culinary site, including one of our favorites, ‘On the Potomac’ at the elegant Lansdowne Resort, has committed to create 70-percent locally sourced menus for the Farm-to-Fork event.

14.  For years the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor (SCNHC) has successfully combined South Carolina’s top two industries- agriculture and tourism- to entertain and educate visitors about where food comes from and the rich agricultural heritage of the state. Under the leadership of Executive Director Michelle McCollum, the SCNHC works with over 45 farmers in the 17 counties of the nationally designated area to host a bi-annual series of events. Each spring and fall events and festivals are compiled and promoted by the SCNHC and the participating farms through cooperative marketing efforts. The events are meant to provide a fun, educational and family-oriented experience to visitors and residents of South Carolina while also educating them on the wide range of destinations that the state has to offer.

Photo:  Rachel Tayse