Indeed, recently a USDA Rural Business Enterprise grant funded a conference on agritourism — not the first in the state, but the first to happen in Rutland, one of Vermont’s grittier burgs. Welcoming Customers on Your Farm: Using Agritourism, Education, and Direct Sales to Increase Farm Profits drew nearly 100 people, mostly farmers, for two days focused on opening your farm to the public for overnight stays, education, direct sales, and events.
Coming from as far away as New Mexico, attendees spent the first day of the two-day conference visiting four area farms, where they learned about agritourism’s myriad forms — from bed-and-breakfasts to farm stands, barn rentals to dinners in the field. “There’s no comparison to being on a farm and seeing firsthand what’s going on,” said Lisa Chase, natural resources specialist at University of Vermont Extension, director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center, and an organizer of the conference. “This was a peer-to-peer learning model.”
At 70-year-old Hathaway Farm, participants learned about beef production and petting areas, and also toured the remnants of a corn maze, as fields were still fallow. At Someday Farm in Dorset, the proprietors shared their knowhow about raising turkeys, growing fruit, and sugaring. The day was capped with a farm-to-table dinner of ratatouille and root vegetables at the circa-1914 Rutland Paramount Theater.
“The fact that people came from all over,” Chase said, “shows that there’s an opportunity and need for this kind of training and networking.” Farmers can get so busy that they don’t have time to visit other farms, she added. “Everyone is miles and miles away from each other, so it was wonderful to see this kind of sharing happen.”
Welcoming Customers on Your Farm
April 7–8, 2015
Vermont Farmers Food Center and Rutland Paramount Theater
On the Agenda
After a day of farm visits, the conference offered traditional program sessions, albeit in unorthodox spaces. Plenaries were held at the historic Rutland Paramont, while workshops such as “Facebook for Farmers” and “Farm-to-Table Dinners: Awesome or Nightmare?” took place at the Community College of Vermont down the street.
Barbara Noyes Pulling, a planner with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, said that it “felt more authentic and organic to use an old theater and to use real classrooms.” And despite the fact that it started to snow as they walked between venues, she said, “People liked getting up and moving around.”