Outdoor Adventures in Agritourism for Families
Fall has arrived here on the farm! My first frost hit in September, the elk are bugling like crazy down in our fields, and I’m throwing on a heavy sweater as I do chores. Any adventures with my kids now also require warmer layers and often rain clothes too. Fall is by far my favorite season because for me it means:
- hot coffee instead of iced coffee
- wildfire season is slowing down so I’ll be seeing my husband (a wildland firefighter) more often
- harvest related agritourism opportunities abound
Wait, what is exactly IS agritourism?! A lot of agritourism opportunities are outdoors and family friendly so let’s explore agritourism some more and find out!!!
What is agritourism?
Think, agriculture + tourism = outdoor adventures connecting farmers or ranchers with consumers. Agritourism is when farms, ranches or other agricultural businesses offer experiences, education, events, recreation opportunities and/or the direct purchase of farm/ranch products on the farm or ranch.
Agritourism is also:
- a low barrier outdoor adventure for young kids.
- a great way for families to have fun together!
- a fun way to learn about local and regional agriculture.
Experiential learning is a powerful tool in teaching, so agritourism is not only outdoors and fun, but educational too! Plus agritourism gives us as consumers the opportunity to shake the hand of the farmer (or rancher) that grows the things we eat or the material we wear; as well as get outdoors on a fun, new adventure!
It is important to remember that not all farms and ranches are open to visitors or offer agritourism opportunities, and not all agritourism opportunities are offered year round.
Please don’t just wander onto a farm or ranch without permission (it is trespassing) or begin harvesting something you see growing (that is theft). Farmers and ranchers are busy people and trespassers could accidentally violate biohazard protocols jeopardizing an entire agricultural business, or accidentally put themselves in dangerous situations with livestock or equipment as well.
Farms and ranches that do offer agritourism opportunities may only be seasonally open, so it is best to check in advance what their seasons and hours of operation are.
Due to COVID, some agritourism business have had to shift and adapt with changing state and federal restrictions, so it is best to research and contact an agricultural business directly in advance to see if reservations are necessary!
U Pick Farms
U Pick Farms (farms where YOU pick the produce) are great ways to interface with and directly support local farmers. You could be picking whatever produce or flower is ripe or in season.
Then once you are done picking, you will be charged for the items you collected with price being assessed on a weight, volume, container or individual product basis (varies by farm and product).
U Pick Farms can be a great introduction to agritourism related activities for families with younger kids. My son puts more effort into picking when he enjoys eating what he’s been picking. Another thing that I’ve found handy is if I give him a “job” or a mission to complete, he also can focus on something like picking at least for a little while longer. So I challenge him to fill a container with berries for example, or we race to see who can fill a container faster, etc.
Bottom line, pulling vegetables out of the ground or picking fruit is satisfying for children of all ages, even adults!
This past spring I toured the Hood River Fruit Loop near Hood River, Oregon. Although the route is accessible year round, I highly recommend visiting mid April when all the fruit trees are blossoming with entire blocks of orchards are erupting in white or pink flowers being pollinated by bees.
Visitors can drive (or bike!) the paved loop made up of highways and county roads to take in the beautiful views of all the orchards with Mount Hood to the South, and Mount Adams to the North. There are also 25+ farmsteads or visitor friendly farms along the route, including some with onsite breweries, wineries and/or cider mills.
It is up to you to decide which farms to stop and explore more thoroughly! And if you return later in the summer or early fall, you have the opportunity to pick your own produce at many!
One of my favorite orchards to visit along the Fruit Loop is the Mountain View Orchard because they offer a variety of opportunities throughout the year. Later in the summer, Mountain View offers visitors the opportunity to pick fruit (apples, pears, peaches, cherries, etc) as it comes into season, as well shop their on farm store.
My 3 year old and 1 year old loved being pulled in between the rows of fruit trees in a little red wagon, only stopping occasionally to pick fruit. The highlight for my son was meeting and feeding some fruit to, “Carlos the Steer,” the friendly longhorn that resides at Mountain View and is a mascot for the orchard. Afterwards we took our small collection of our apples picked to be weighed and paid for at Mountain View’s farm stand.
We snagged some apple cider donuts and cider to snack and sip on as we waited for our pear pizza at a picnic table next to the onsite brewery and wine tasting room.
My 3 year old couldn’t stop talking about Carlos, so we had to walk the Mountain View Orchard again just to go see Carlos. Afterwards, my son excitedly made up stories for days about riding in wagons, picking apples and seeing cows.
Benefits of U Pick Farm Adventures:
- opportunity for kids to run through a field and see where and how vegetables and fruit grow.
- YOU get to harvest your own food to eat!
- a fun and engaging way to get young kids to work on fine motor skills like picking/pulling, and then putting something into a container.
- many have animals on site too, and children of all ages benefit from petting friendly farm animals.
Summertime for many people, is synonymous with summer festivals, and many festivals celebrate local agriculture! Local or regionally important crops like chili, lavender, hops, apples, cranberries or melons (just to name a few) are celebrated widely and enthusiastically.
Often associated with these events, there may be other attractions (rodeo, pageant, parade, markets, vendors) too and/or learning opportunities (farm tours, farm to table dining/sipping, demonstrations and/or workshops.) It is up to you to do some research to learn more about what is grown or produced in your part of the world and seek out the associated agritourism opportunities!
Merely by chance, while attending a beekeeping conference in Ashland, OR in 2019, I learned that there was also a Lavender Festival taking place nearby. Several of the lavender farms along the Southern Oregon Lavender Trail were celebrating by offering additional lavender laced foods, beverages, U Pick opportunities, as well as hosting unique craft and culinary vendors.
At the time, my son was barely two years old, but he enjoyed running up and down rows of lavender at the various farms we visited on our lavender farm tour. He also enjoyed his lavender lemonade and lavender ice cream, and insisted that we make some of our own with lavender we harvested.
Benefits of Agriculture Festivals:
- typically something for everyone in the family (explore a farm, eat regional cuisine, support local makers and growers, run/walk in a local fun run to raise money for a local charity).
- many events and experiences are packed into a week or weekend.
- learn more about local produce.
On Farm Camping
On farm camping is something that I have seen growing in popularity between farmers/ranchers and the outdoor recreation crowd. Farmers/ranchers looking to diversify or expand their income stream have began offering agritourism opportunities on their farm and ranches like overnight camping.
Campers, looking to go camping but not wanting to compete with crowds at busy campgrounds or travel far into the wilderness to escape crowds, may enjoy camping or cabin rentals on a farm or ranch.
Next year I’m hoping to go “glamping” at Hidden Acres Orchard north of Spokane near Mead, WA. I have never been glamping before and as someone that used to camp a minimum of 100 days a year out under the stars while working as a wildland firefighter, I have no problem with sleeping in a wall tent with a nice bed in the middle of an orchard while eating farm fresh eggs, baked goods or jam made with fruit from said orchard.
I have no doubt my kids will thoroughly enjoy the experience as well since they love exploring orchards and eating the produce they pick.
Benefits of On Farm Camping:
- limited visitors allowed, so no competing with crowds and noise.
- low barrier entry into camping with young kids, complete with open space to run free and see wildlife.
- your family is outdoors, in a quiet location under the stars and you might even get to eat something grown or produced on the farm or ranch you are visiting.
My son has been talking about pumpkin patches, pumpkins and Halloween since June! Pumpkin patches tend to be a fun outdoor family activity, especially for younger kids that can’t quite walk or enjoy exploring something like a corn maze yet. Rocky Creek Farm in Bozeman, MT did a really nice job in 2020 during the pandemic to create a fun pumpkin patch experience while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Visitors could RSVP online for a time slot they planned to visit the farmland this helped to keep exposure potential lower. Rocky Creek had already harvested the pumpkins off their vines and scattered them throughout their apple orchard.
My son was 2 at the time and straight up squealed with delight when he saw all the pumpkins under the trees. I think he found about 7 pumpkins that were all the “perfect pumpkin,” but lucky for me, he could only carry one at a time, and some he couldn’t budge at all. After we selected our pumpkins, we also got some of the farm fresh cider from Rocky Creek to take home and enjoy after carving our perfect pumpkins.
Benefits of a Pumpkin Patch:
- fun, low barrier outdoor adventure for families with young kids.
- an outdoor adventure that can be as quick or as long as you’d like, making them. Good option for a quick family outing on the weekend if you are busy.
- Pumpkin patches are fun to explore, and the pumpkins you select can either be taken home and turned into soup, pie or other delicious foods; or you can carve them up as jack o lanterns for Halloween!
Visiting a corn maze has long been on my “to do” list. Every maze is unique in size and design based on the farmer’s crop and imagination, and all are an intricate series of twists, turns and dead ends through ten foot tall corn stalks that visitors navigate their way through. Some have an element of spookiness to them for older visitors who enjoy being scared, others do not and are simple family fun.
I personally had a blast at Bill’s Berry Farm near Sunnyside, WA. My 3 year old, 1 year old and I just wandered around in the corn maze exploring different routes, admiring the really tall corn and talking to each other. For older kids and adults, there was the option to play a game similar to the board game, “Clue” where you collected clues throughout the maze to solve a farm related mystery (was it the rooster, in the barn, with a pitchfork?)
In total I think my kids and I spent around 5 hours running around Bill’s Berry Farm. There were wagon rides, a farm petting zoo, a self guided/self paced storybook walk through an orchard and go carts. Visitors could also pick their own apples and press them into cider, as well.
Another corn maze we visited was the one at Huntting’s Farm in Cinebar, WA which includes a scavenger hunt of sorts that was fun for my 3 year old. He excitedly ran around the corn maze for about an hour looking for the various checkpoints. Hunttings farm also has a Haunted Forest where visitors can explore a forested part of the farm and be scared by paid actors. Although I skipped the Haunted Forest, my family did wander around the pumpkin patch and selected 2 of the most perfect pumpkins we could find.
Benefits of a Corn Maze:
- the corn maze is a great outdoor adventure opportunity for families wanting to work on navigation skills. Younger kids might not understand or see the fun of being lost in a maze of corn, but older kids (and adults) will enjoy running around looking for clues, checkpoints or even just the way out!
- typically there is a simple way to get out if you really do get confused and lost; but be prepared to spend a solid 1-2 hours navigating the corn maze with your family.
- Not always, but typically there are other agritourism opportunities offered on farms that host a corn maze, like wagon rides, farm animal petting zoos, pumpkin patches, etc.
Some agritourism activities are just getting warmed up in winter, so grab your woolies and get outside! The Reindeer Farm near my hometown of Palmer, Alaska offers a fun, outdoor Christmas on the farm type event referred to as the, “Santa Experience Tour.”
Visitors are able to feed and pet “Santa’s” reindeer, see moose up close, meet Santa Claus, make crafts and sip hot cocoa all while outside playing in the snow. I took my son when he was 1 and the experience left a huge impression on him. Despite the cold temperatures, with the appropriate winter layers (I wore my wool overalls from Revivall), we were able to spend close to 3 hours playing outside in the snow, sipping hot cocoa and petting reindeer.
Another fun, winter agritourism activity that is popular is visiting a Christmas tree farm to select and harvest your very own Christmas tree.
Indiana is considered the Christmas tree capital of the United States, but there are many varieties of Christmas tree species grown all across the US. All those trees you see being sold in parking lots in the cities before Christmas? Those all came from a Christmas tree farm somewhere in the United States.
My family would always go out in the woods to cut a Christmas tree for Christmas, so I never had the Christmas tree farm experience or realized that was a thing until I was older. I see the benefit of it being a safe way for families to get outside with their kids in the winter and have fun hunting for the perfect tree together.
Benefits of Winter Agritourism:
- it’s a safe, low barrier way for families to get outside in the winter a little closer to home than getting lost in the mountains in a snowstorm.
- it’s a fun way to see that, yes, reindeer are real, live animals, and maybe these will bring a little holiday cheer and magic into your life.
Finding Agritourism Adventures for Families
All of the above types of agritourism can help foster meaningful connections between the consumer and the farm. From that, long-term relationships can be forged. During 2020, the pandemic forced many businesses to close their doors or discontinue their services. Farmers however, kept farming.
They were still planting, growing, caring and producing despite supply chain disruptions that resulted in bare shelves at stores. By purchasing directly from farmers and ranchers, you have a direct connection to your food/fiber that is resilient and less likely to be impacted by external factors like a pandemic.
The sky is the limit when it comes to agritourism experiences. Just being on a farm or ranch and experiencing what is happening, seeing it with your own eyes, can be such a positive and fun experience. General interest in supporting local growers, doers and makers has been increasing in recent times as well.
At this time, my kids are so young that they don’t fully understand a lot of the learning laced within agritourism experiences, but the sure have a blast exploring and running around different farms and ranches. Plus, they learn more each day through hands on experience, exploring and observing the world around them, creating more connections and associations in their mind.
The United States is HUGE and the agritourism opportunities vary by regions, soil and climate factors, and state business and licensing restrictions. Some agritourism opportunities may not exist in your part of the world, but I promise there is something somewhat agritourism related near you! It could be an orchard, a cranberry bog, a vinyard, an urban farm or a yaak ranch- half the fun is in researching and learning what’s growing near you! Some of my favorite agritourism experiences I completely came across by accident, or by striking up a conversation with a stranger.
In fact, one of my favorite farm visits and the highlight of a trip to Iowa was visiting the Amy Goldman Heritage Orchard at the Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm near Decorah, Iowa. There are miles of trails to be hiked, streams to be fished, gardens and an orchard to explore in addition to the visitor center. I learned about it while striking up a conversation with someone at a beekeeping workshop in Iowa and it turned out to be the highlight of the entire trip.
Where to Find Agritourism Opportunities Near You:
Find agritourism via the Internet!
Simply type into your search engine “agritourism” and you town or county name. Another option is to type in specifically what you are looking for, like, “pumpkin patch” or “corn maze.”
Find agritourism via word of mouth
Talk to a farmer at a farmers market. Ask a brewery where they get their hops or a winery where their grapes are grown. Find your local Extension Agent or Master Gardener Coordinator through a state land grant university, or reach out the your local Farm Bureau or Farmers Union.
Interested in connecting with your local farmer, rancher or fisherman? Check out: farmshake.com
Agritourism with Kids
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