Arabian camels, emus, wallabies, llamas, peacocks and zebus (a rare Indian breed of cattle), sound like majestic, mysterious animals that would probably require a trip across the globe to see. But Michigan offers the chance to get up close and personal with all of them.
At family-owned and operated Lewis Farm Market in New Era, unique animals are just one of the many draws that bring families to the farm.
“Agritainment is a very important part of our business,” says Scott Lewis, fourth-generation owner of Lewis Farm Market. “Getting people to the farm and having them participate in these fun, educational activities shows them how important agriculture really is. We fill a void that other businesses can’t, and it helps us sell our products as well.”
The farm offers a corn maze in the fall, pedal carts, apple cannons, rubber duck races, observation hives for their honeybees and lots more. Plus, Lewis Farm Market is an actual working farm, growing more than 25 varieties of apples, as well as other fruits and vegetables, all of which can be purchased at the farm.
“We offer school tours and sometimes the parents come along,” he says. “You’d be surprised at how many of them have never seen an apple orchard before.”
Country Dairy, like Lewis Farm Market, understands the importance of educating consumers about agriculture. That’s why they invite them for tours of their working dairy and processing facility.
Also located in New Era, Country Dairy has been processing and bottling milk since 1983. They are a producer-handler, which means they control the entire process, from the herd of Holsteins to stocking milk on the shelf.
“Most people are moving away from the farm. We want to give them the educational opportunity to see how a modern dairy operates,” says Jeff Swanson, tour manager for Country Dairy. “We show them how and why the cows are cared for, and that farmers today really do treat their animals right. It helps people understand how agriculture works.”
Country Dairy produces fresh milk and other dairy products, including cheese, ice cream and butter. At the dairy’s Moo School, visitors and schoolchildren can learn about the history of dairy, dairy farming and the industry. After a tour of the cows and bottling plant, guests enjoy chocolate milk samples. If they’re still hungry, they can stop by the farm store, which offers a full restaurant menu with farm products.
“We want to invite people to our family farm. We’re not trying to hide anything,” Swanson says. “Agritourism is a great marketing tool to share our story.”
While agritourism activities are an essential tool in teaching consumers about Michigan agriculture, producers largely benefit as well, enabling them to diversify their income.
Linda Jones with the Office of Agriculture Development at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development says agritourism helps farmers build loyalty and relationships.
“Farmers can sell directly to consumers and get instant feedback,” she says.
Along with activities at farms like Country Dairy and Lewis Farm Market, Michigan agritourism has grown to include travel destinations, such as wineries, breweries and hard cideries.
“People are seeking out farms, wineries and more for weddings or business meetings,” Jones says.
Janice Benson, executive director of the Michigan Agritourism Association, says the future of agritourism is bright for the Great Lakes State.
“We’re seeing more educational workshops and classes being offered, as well as historical farm tours and agricultural museums,” she says. “It’s an exciting time.”