Virginia is for lovers – lovers of all things agriculture, that is. As agritourism coordinator for the Fields of Gold Farm Trail in Shenandoah Valley, Tracey Coltrain believes the merging of agriculture and tourism is natural.
“Here in the valley, the top two economic drivers are tourism and agriculture,” Coltrain says. “So the marriage of the two is really kind of a no-brainer.
“We have a lot of asset-rich farms in Shenandoah Valley that are open to the public. It’s a way for people to be able to access them all in one place conveniently, which people really appreciate.”
People are appreciating agritourism not only in Shenandoah, but throughout Virginia in places wherever there might be a fusion of farms with a population of sightseers and vacationers. Agritourism is a growing industry in the state, serving farmers and producers who are benefiting from the income and publicity. Visitors and tourists are educated and entertained, and local governments and businesses feel the positive economic impact.
In Loudoun County, visitors discover the area’s long-held farming traditions as well as relatively newer ag ventures, such as wineries and craft breweries. With the county’s close proximity to Washington, D.C., the Loudoun Farm Tours – held the third weekend in May and again during the third weekend in October – have visitors from all over the country. The Loudoun County Department of Economic Development started the tours in 1992.
“We have an economic development strategy for agriculture in Loudoun County, and we know it has to be about the evolution of agriculture,” says Kellie Hinkle, agricultural development officer for Loudoun County’s Economic Development office.
“It’s a commitment to showcase our farms and to educate people about what goes on at our farms,” she says. “The tours get people out there, allowing farmers to talk about what they’re doing and their businesses. It’s a great opportunity to support our local agriculture.”
The format of the two farm tours seems to still work after all these years, according to surveys that are taken after each event.
“It’s one of those things where we’ll start thinking maybe we need to change the format, or maybe we change the scope or limit the farms. But every year, all the farmers are happy, and all the people who go on the tours are happy,” Hinkle says. “So we just keep doing it and adding more farms.”
Diversity of Attractions
Not only is the number of Virginia farms participating in agritourism growing, but so is the variety within the industry.
Douglas Dear’s Rose River Farm in Madison County is a case in point. Dear and his wife, Jennifer, bought the Angus beef cattle farm in 2003. Through the years, they have made it into quite the destination.
Rose River Farm is a go-to place for trout fishing, open to both beginners and experienced anglers. Dear added luxury cabins to the property in 2011, crafting it into an ideal location for weddings, family reunions and similar gatherings.
“It attracts a lot of people from the city,” Dear says, referring to D.C., which is less than two hours away. “Of course, our trophy fly fishing is a really big draw. But at least half the people are coming from the city, wanting to get out to the country – especially people who have kids. They love to see the calves, tour the farm, see hay made and more. There is always something going on.”