Connecting the public to agriculture and helping farmers strengthen and diversify their operations, agritourism is growing across North Carolina.
The state lays claim to dozens of U-pick farms and orchards where visitors can collect fresh, in-season produce, and several farms are opening their proverbial doors to guests of all ages, offering guided tours and hosting educational events as well as seasonal celebrations. For example, there are ample opportunities to pick pumpkins, explore corn mazes and enjoy hayrides on North Carolina farms during the fall, and many of the state’s Christmas tree farms flourish during the holiday season by offering guests the chance to choose and cut their own trees.
North Carolina’s more than 400 vineyards and 200 wineries are also drawing visitors, and the state’s five wine trails – Shallow Ford, Southern Gateway, Swan Creek, Uwharrie Mountains and Yadkin River – make it easy for residents and tourists to get a taste of the state’s unique viticulture industry.
Weddings are a growing part of North Carolina’s agritourism sector, too, and McCormick Farms in Spring Lake is a perfect example of how these special events can result in a major uptick in farm visitors.
Established in 1796, McCormick Farms is a family-owned operation that produces timber, pine straw and hay, and includes a Hereford-Black Angus beef cattle herd. In recent years, it has expanded to become an agritourism destination, providing land for an ATV park, hosting Spartan Race obstacle course events, offering farm tours and workshops, and, most recently, serving as a wedding and special events venue.
Alex Hammill, an eighth-generation farmer whose family began McCormick Farms, says it was her husband, Bruce Hammill, who first realized the operation had the potential to host weddings. She says it was his vision that created what’s now known as The Barn, which was completed in April 2018 and is a 15,500-square-foot building made largely with pine from the farm that includes a bridal suite, groom suite, prep kitchen and auxiliary hall, along with a half-dozen crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
In addition, McCormick Farms has an outdoor venue called The Grove that features 100-year-old pecan trees and the centuries-old McCormick family homestead with its original smokehouse and dinner bell. Like The Barn, it’s ideal for those in search of a farm-wedding destination.
“We’re seeing the gap that’s growing in our culture between agriculture and the general public, and we see agritourism as a way of bringing the two back together,” Bruce says. “Agritourism has also helped us grow our business and expand our revenue streams, allowing the farm to continue on and hopefully be a fixture in the community and state for years to come.”