Agritourism introduces visitors to homegrown attractions
Florida may be known for its theme parks and beaches, but agritourism gives visitors a chance to explore an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Agritourism combines Florida’s two biggest industries and casts a wide net of activities that include things like u-pick berry farms, bucolic wedding venues, family-owned wineries and corn mazes.
“It’s basically anytime a farmer opens up his property to the public for some kind of entertainment, educational, or other on-farm or ranch experience,” says Lena Juarez, executive director of the Florida Agritourism Association (FATA).
How Florida Agritourism Association connects farmers and visitors
FATA is a statewide organization dedicated to the promotion and expansion of agritourism throughout Florida, with a focus on business development, marketing, education and legislative advocacy.
Based out of Tallahassee, FATA aims to help farmers, ranchers and livestock operators create a viable attraction while getting the word out to potential visitors about these sometimes-secluded spots.
The FATA app, for example, lets visitors search agritourism attractions by type and location while finding upcoming events in their area. There’s even a way to see what Florida produce is in season every month.
The FATA website comes with a starter kit for farmers looking to create an agritourism attraction of their own as well as marketing tools and other support, like traveling seminars.
“It gives them an outline of what they’ll need to get started and some regulations to be aware of,” Juarez says.
Second- and third-generation farmers tend to be more comfortable creating agritourism sites as a secondary source of revenue, Juarez said. Women also tend to lead the charge when it comes to marketing unique farm experiences.
“That’s been a cool trend to notice,” Juarez says.
Agritourism as a state statute
U.S. Department of Agriculture Census data shows 724 farms were involved in agritourism and recreational activities in 2012, up from 281 in 2007.
The spike promoted Florida lawmakers to enact a new state statute on agritourism in 2013.
The regulation defined the term and reduced liability for farms engaging in those activities if owners posted a warning sign with specific language on their property.
This gave protection to farmers who may have otherwise refrained from opening their land to the public, Juarez says.
The statute was revised in 2016 to include language classifying civic ceremonies like weddings as agritourism.
It also prohibited local governments from enacting new regulations to limit agritourism, activities on classified ag land or enforce existing regulations that restrict agritourism. The statute did allow local government to address “substantial off-site impacts” of agritourism activities.
Attracting international visitors
The agritourism industry is attracting tourists from around the world.
Mary Beth Henry, an agent at the UF/IFAS office in Bartow, attended a conference on education and extension in Europe over the summer. She discussed Florida agritourism along with ways to engage the nearly 4 million European visitors who travel to the state each year.
“International visitors tend to stay longer and spend more money,” Henry says. “And those tourists, especially people from Europe, already have a culture that’s really interested in how food is produced and exploring nature.”
Henry said connecting Florida and European farmers might be a way to help growers learn how to market agritourism attractions to a wider audience.
“There’s many farms over there that already offer these experiences at different levels,” Henry says. “Creating an across-the-pond network could be really beneficial for Florida farmers who want to branch out.”
Growing a family agritourism business
Both Henry and Juarez say creating unique experiences on the farm is important for success.
In Osceola County, Mick Farms in rural St. Cloud opened its gates to the public last year and is looking to grow its offerings.
The family-owned operation is a labor of love for Aaron and Lyndsye Mick, who acquired the 32-acre property off Canoe Creek Road last February through a lease-to-own agreement.
The couple previously worked on local commercial farms and always yearned for a place to call their own.
But times can be tough for growers, prompting the Micks to open their gates to create another revenue source.
“We were learning it was getting harder and harder to survive on commercial farming,” says Aaron Mick.
Mick Farms had great success with its u-pick strawberry field earlier this year. The couple plans to continue in September with sunflower fields that visitors can explore followed by a u-pick pumpkin patch in October.
Aaron’s wife, Lyndsye, has been marketing everything the farm has to offer online and through social media. She says she’s excited to try new experiences for visitors, including family movie nights in the fall and a special Christmas market.
For Aaron Mick, opening the farm is also a way to show visitors what rural life is all about.
“I’ve always had a desire to educate the next younger generation about where their food comes from,” he says. “We are trying to give families the opportunity to enjoy farm life.”
Central Florida Agritourism Sites to Check Out
True Blue Winery
Location: 604 Pink Apartment Rd, Davenport, FL 33837 (Polk County)
Description: Founded in 2012, True Blue Winery offers prize-winning homemade wines created on the premise. Wine is available by the bottle or crate. A bistro operates on property from October 1 through June 29. There’s even an annual wine festival in the spring along with a blueberry u-pick.
For more information: truebluewinery.com
Sugar Sand Distillery
Location: 264 Henscratch Rd, Lake Placid, FL 33852 (Highlands)
Description: Nestled in the middle of a 10-acre sugar cane farm, Sugar Sand is Florida’s only estate-grown sugar cane distillery farm. Visitors can tour the facility, taste spirits (including rum, vodka, whiskey and moonshine) and participate in farm operations.
For more Information: SugarSandDistillery.com
Wishing Well Barn
Location: 4302 Pippin Rd, Plant City, FL 33567 (Hillsborough)
Description: Wishing Well Barn is a fully functioning cattle ranch with adjacent blueberry fields. It also has a rustic old barn to host family events and weddings.
For more information: wishingwellbarn.com
Location: 3350 U.S. Highway 17 North, Bowling Green, FL 33834 (Hardee)
Description: Heartland Place offers many activities including pig races, a “cow train,” a playground and — depending on the season — a Christmas village and pumpkin patch. In the fall, Heartland’s corn maze opens for business. The farm also hosts groups, weddings and educational field trips for children.
For more information: theheartlandmaze.com