Michigan produces more than 300 different agricultural commodities. Add breathtaking views from hilly apple orchards and wide open spaces for corn mazes and Christmas tree farms and it’s no small wonder Michigan is home to a thriving — and growing — agritourism sector.
As the intersection of agriculture and tourism, agritourism allows for the public to connect with agriculture, experience farm life and taste its bounty. Activities can encompass everything from picking produce like strawberries, apples and blueberries to experiencing exciting adventures such as corn mazes, pumpkin catapulting and wagon rides. Agritourism allows families to celebrate events such on-farm weddings and holidays by choosing and picking your favorite pumpkin and Christmas tree.
The agritourism industry relies heavily on good weather weekends for visitors to enjoy. For the agritourism business, weather that keeps family and friends at home means lost revenue.
This summer, Michigan experienced its busiest summer on record due to COVID-19 restrictions and the cancellation of most other activities. The busy summer meant most strawberry operations had to close their doors, after being open for only a few hours, because all of the available ripe berries were picked before noon.
I myself visited a small operation where the owner had to close the gates 45 minutes after it opened. Compare that to last year when I picked berries at another operation and saw late-season berries rotting on the vine. When I asked the owners why, they said they’d had two very rainy weekends back-to-back, so visitors didn’t come to pick and a tremendous amount of revenue was lost.
Michigan’s agritourism operations invested a tremendous amount of time this year preparing to open their doors to the public while implementing COVID-19 precautions to ensure their customers’ safety.
U-pick strawberry patches offered new containers for customers and asked them to keep last year’s container at home. Many large u-pick apple operations offered the ability to reserve time slots online so crowds could be managed and adequate staffing was ensured. One large operation hired staff specifically to safely sanitize high-touch areas.
Despite such successes, Michigan agritourism felt two huge gaping holes this year.
The first was on-farm weddings that were cancelled due to crowd restrictions, meaning thousands in lost revenue. The second were cancelled field trips — a lost season of educating young people about the significance of Michigan agriculture.
The last agritourism segment to open its doors this year will be the choose-n-cut Christmas tree farms. Thanksgiving falls late on the calendar this year — Nov. 26 — so there are only four weekends between it and Christmas! Christmas tree farms are expecting an extremely busy 2020 season, managing a lot of customers in a short period of time.
And unlike other agritourism segments, Christmas tree customers rarely stay home because of the weather!
- Discuss the state of agritourism in your county and region. How has it changed (presumably grown) in recent decades?
- How well (accurately) do agritourism ventures in your area depict the realities of food commodity production?
- With the exception of summertime berry picking, Michigan’s most common agritourism ventures are primarily autumnal: apples, pumpkins then Christmas trees as winter approaches. What opportunities might be feasible for expanded agritourism activities in the winter and spring.
AND/OR submit one of the following to [email protected]:
- Suggest a CAG discussion topic your group is dying to chew on.
- Describe a local issue impacting farmers in your area that nobody seems to be talking about.
How to Respond (Please include your name & CAG affiliation.)
- Email: [email protected]
- Conventional, postal mail: MFB Community Group Discussion, ATTN: Michelle Joseph, 7373 W. Saginaw Hwy., Lansing, MI 48909