24th Annual Meeting: Agritourism Panel RecapFebruary 5, 2020
Our Annual Meeting on January 28th was a great day. The Inn at the Round Barn was lovely and attendees enjoyed networking with old friends and new acquaintances. We were excited to welcome all our panelists to share their perspectives with solid discussion and questions from the attendees. 2020 is going to be quite the busy year for VFN.
The Agritourism Panel was our first panel of the day. Food and farm tourism plays an important role in Vermont's economy. We discussed trends, challenges, and opportunities. And the lead-in to the conversation was the announcement of a new 3 year Federal Grant awarded to the Vermont Fresh Network to strengthen, support, and provide resources for Vermont agritourism.
- Mary Tuthill (Mad River Taste Place, Waitsfield)
If you'd like to learn more about the panelists, please click here.
The panel began with short presentations from each of the speakers, starting off with Moderator Lisa Chase from UVM Extension. “People typically think of tourism as being for people from far away, but agritourism can be geared towards Vermont natives, as well as visitors. The core definition of agritourism is that it takes place on a farm, but the definition can be broadened to include other farm and food related experiences. Globally, agritourism is an almost $6 billion industry, and in Vermont, it's a $52 million industry, with almost 2000 farms participating in some sort of agritourism activities. The first ever World Congress on Agritourism was held in Bolzano, Italy in 2018, and will continue to be held there every four years. Every two years between Congresses, an International Workshop on Agritourism is held in a new location. UVM Extension is proud to partner with Eurac Research to host this year's International Workshop in Burlington this coming October.”
Next, attendees heard from Ashlyn Bristle about the agritourism activities that take place at Rebop Farm in Brattleboro, which she owns and runs with her husband, Abraham. They host cheesemaking and fermentation workshops, farm dinners, and concerts. In fact, they have 30 concerts scheduled in 2020. They are active participants in Vermont Open Farm Week and recently received a 2019 Working Lands Enterprise Grant to build a farm store and 50-person community space on-site. Ashlyn and Abraham make sure to keep a certain percentage of their events and workshops affordable to engage the local community, as well as visitors from further out.
Mary Tuthill of Mad River Taste Place spoke about her accomplished culinary background and outlined what she does at Mad River Taste Place, an all-Vermont food and beverage store that aims to showcase the best of what the state has to offer. Mad River Taste hosts in-store tastings with local purveyors and recently began shipping items via their new e-commerce website feature. Next, Mary would like to start offering more education-based programs, like classes and workshops.
Next, Todd Heyman of Fat Sheep Farm & Cabins spoke about his recent renovation of their old dairy barn to become a beautiful event space. The farmstays he and his wife, Suzy, offer in their five on-site cabins have received visitors from near and far. In addition to selling agricultural products, they offer guests on-farm experiences as part of their stay. When folks visit, a group of children can be seen following them around during morning chores, helping to collect eggs and milk sheep.
Sara DeFilippi of the Vermont Department of Tourism gave a presentation on vermontvacation.com and spoke to the different reasons people visit Vermont every year, including outdoor recreation and food. With 700,000 unique visitors to the website last year, the number one interest was food. Sara coordinates itineraries for journalists reporting on Vermont and is always looking for new, exciting places to send them. She also attends the Big E and other trade shoes, representing Vermont tourism.
After introductions and presentations, Lisa led a guided discussion with the panelists.
Question: What trends are you seeing? What are customers looking for?
Ashlyn - We keep hearing from folks wanting to know about regenerative and pasture-based agriculture. They ask a lot of questions.
Mary - People are asking more intelligent questions, customers have more knowledge. Staff has to be educated to answer. Orders are shipping to folks all across the country. People are ordering gifts for their friends and relatives to share products from this area.
Todd - Customers are coming from further away, and may not be as well informed, but they're hungry for experiences. We realized we were not offering enough activities on the farm and have shifted to offering cheesemaking classes, popcorn movie nights, etc. Demand is amazing for farmstays and offers another revenue stream for farmers.
Sara - There is a demand for experiential travel.
Lisa - Transformational travel is a new buzz word.
Question: How can locals be included in agritourism?
Keep the price points affordable and build trust with the community. Make events have something for everyone. Harvest festivals are a great thing to offer for free or low cost.
Question: What challenges are you facing?
Sara - I wish we had more money to do more marketing. It's challenging to compete with other activities or reasons people come to Vermont - outdoor recreation, covered bridges, etc.
Todd - Local and state government regulations can create confusion, which is a challenge. I wish there could be more farmstays - like Italy. The more of them there are, the better Vermont will become as an agritourism destination.
Mary - Marketing is a challenge. Which maps is it worth being on? What memberships are worth paying for? What's working?
Ashlyn - Balancing production and the tourism aspect is our biggest challenge. Being introverted individuals makes it challenging for us to give visitors the personal connections they want to build with us. It's tough to stay sane while doing that - we have to have a good balance so it feels predictable.
Lisa - Biosecurity and human health are challenges - diseases jumping from animals to humans. Visitors and the farm itself must take proper safety protocols. State experts will work on basic protocols and develop signage.
If you'd like to check out the presentation slides from the Agritourism Panel, click here.
Thank you to the moderators, panelists, and everyone who joined us for the 2020 Vermont Fresh Network Annual Meeting! We especially want to thank the The Inn at the Round Barn Farm for hosting us and Joe's Kitchen, American Flatbread - Lareau Farm, Cabot Creamery Co-operative, The Inn at the Round Barn Farm, Karim Farm & Creamery, King Arthur Flour Bakery and Cafe, Stowe Cider, and Red Hen Baking Co. for providing lunch and sweet treats for the day. And thank you to Mad River Taste Place for hosting our after party.
We also want to thank our Affiliate Partners, Burlington Free Press, Black River Produce, Farrell Distributing, Foley Services, Hotel Vermont, and Vermont First, and our Annual Meeting business sponsor, Front Porch Forum.