Farmers Diversify Businesses to Attract Tourists


24 November, 2014
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

As weather cools across the United States, a growing number of Americans visit farms. They harvest apples enjoy hay wagon rides and walk in the fields. These people are called "agri-tourists." They improve the economy of rural areas and help farmers increase their profits.

School children are walking in a corn field maze. The corn is cut into tricky passageways that make it difficult to find a way out.

The children are from Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie Maryland. They have traveled to Montpelier Farms in Prince George's County which is also in Maryland. The farm is about 40 kilometers from The White House.

Debbie Pierson is the student's teacher.

Farmers Diversify Businesses to Attract Tourists

"We go on these kind of field trips so that the children will have a hands-on experience of what it's like to be on a farm," Pierson said.

Amy Etsy-Smith is visiting the farm with her children.

"We come about once a year, Lots of fun, yes. The kids enjoy it. This was her favorite part, was choosing the pumpkin." Amy said.

When Mike Dunn opened the family farm to agri-tourists in 2008, he had only a corn maze, a pumpkin field and hay wagon rides. But he says, so many people visited that he soon increased the number of activities. He says he hopes he will someday make a larger profit from visitors than from farming.

"Our agri-tourism revenue might be 30 percent of our entire farm income. We'd like to grow it to one day maybe 60 percent," Dunn said.

Americans spent more than $700 million on agri-tourism activities in the United States in 2012. That is an increase of 24 percent from 2007.

In Loudoun County Virginia, there are farms where grapes are grown for use in making wine. Many of the farms let people visit, and drink the wine that is made there. Bill Hatch owns the Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. He holds wine tastings in his home.

"We are doubling the number of visitors to our farm every year. We have an average of 250 people on a weekend," Hatch said.

As more people visit farms, more farmers are adding activities in which visitors can take part.

Malcolm Baldwin owns WeatherLea Farm and Vineyard in Loudoun County. Six years ago, he began letting people be married at his farm. They can also sleep at the farm overnight. Mr. Baldwin says the money he makes from these activities let him keep his small farm operating.

"But without the animals, and without the vines, the wedding business wouldn't be as profitable, because people like to see the vines. They like to see the animals and without which I don't think this will be a popular place," Baldwin said.

And that's the VOA Learning English Agriculutre Report. I'm Caty Weaver.