By Holdnak, Andrew, II; Pennington-Gray, Lori
Parks & Recreation , Vol. 35, No. 9
To some the idea of farm tourism conjures up visions of remote destinations filled with exotic flora and fauna. To others, the concept includes opportunities in more commercialized environments like wineries. Few would immediately think of a farm-based operation in an urban, south Florida environment, but such is the case for Knollwood Groves in Palm Beach County, Florida. Owner/manager Tom Dwyer and his staff use farm tourism to help maintain the viability of a historic 30-acre orange grove located on land that would otherwise convert to residential development.
Vacationing on farms and ranches dates back to the late nineteenth century. The first "dude ranches" were operated in the 1880s in North Dakota. In 1949, the first farm vacation brochure listed farm facilities that would accept tourists. Since the 1960s the number of farm vacations has been increasing dramatically, but total numbers of farm tourists are unknown. However, one study found that the Northern Rockies states (Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana) estimated 11,500 visitor days in 1990 (Bryan, 1991).
So why is farm tourism increasing? The answer is simple ... there are more people with more free time, who are looking to experience a "real" adventure (Bryan, 1991). People are looking for authentic experiences that challenge the mind, expand horizons, and educate in an outdoor, nature-oriented setting. Sightseeing, exploring small towns, tasting local foods, and learning about the land are more popular activities than ever for travelers (Spotts et. al., 1997).
Early definitions of farm tourism were broad in scope (Clarke, 1995). Definitions included any farm operation that also involved some form of tourism. Later, however, the definition narrowed to focus on the consumer. This changed the emphasis from "tourism on farms" to "farm tourism" (Clarke, 1996). In recent years, the definition has been tightened to focus also on the scale of the operation and management of the tourism component of the operation. Farm tourism in the strictest sense suggests that income from tourism accounts for at least 25 percent of the operation's total income, the farm is no less than 25 acres in size, tourism is the secondary focus of operation (farming being first), and non-locals purchase products and visit the site either as a day-trip or overnight stay (Clarke, 1996). Thus, farm tourism includes the following: farm-based accommodations, farm-based meals, farm-based activities, agricultural festivals and events, farm-based attractions, farm-based retail establishments, and farm-based tourism centers.
The concept of farm tourism appears self-explanatory, but it is actually complex. It involves a number of key components, some of which are: sustainable development, education and economic contribution of tourism versus agriculture. Most importantly, there exists a case of stewardship for the land. It is about preserving and conserving the land.
Sustainable development is a growing philosophy that ensures the consumption of tourism does not exceed the capacity of the land. It involves making use of our natural resources without depleting or permanently harming them, so they can be used in the future. The concept of a carrying capacity is essential to sustainable development. Carrying capacity encompasses two main areas: ecological carrying capacity and aesthetic carrying capacity. According to environmentalists, ecological carrying capacity is a "measure" of the amount of renewable resources in the environment in units of the number of organisms these resources can support (Whelen, 1991). Thus, the volume of people is related to the limitations of a fragile and delicate environment. Aesthetic carrying capacity involves people's space in relation to one another. It suggests that when tourists encounter many other tourists or see the impacts of other visitors their enjoyment may be diminished (Whelen, 1991). …