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Could ‘Agritourism’ Be An Answer For Struggling, Rural Economies? Experts Say Yes.

Used with permission
Goats and Yoga

“Agritourism” is a buzzword used to describe bringing tourists to farms and ranches. Think winery tours, petting zoos, or a romantic bed-and-breakfast surrounded by rows of corn. At Willard High School, some students are getting experience with farm work and culinary skills—and they’re encouraged to consider agritourism as a career field.

Inside a barn behind Willard High School, a calf, some goats, and a few chickens hang out in their pens while Irish Dexter cattle graze in the field outside.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
Some of the plants grown by students inside Willard High School will go toward learning about farm-to-table operations.

Inside the Ag building next door, rows of vegetables grow in hydroponic beds a few feet away from students, who tend to them.

Some of the food raised at the school is used to prepare food for culinary events. This farm-to-table operation aims to train students for careers in farming, or food service—or a blend of both.

J.T. Asher is an agriculture teacher at Willard.

“The chickens, the laying hens, all the eggs go to our farm-to-table program at this moment. If we have a surplus, we’ll sell those. And then we could possibly even use some of the goats for slaughter for some of those projects as well,” Asher said.

Agritourism's potential to bring outside wealth to rural areas

Gail Noggle is executive director of the Economic Development Alliance in Bolivar. She says agritourism has the potential to bring wealth to rural areas by so-called “city slickers” spending their money on local food, restaurants, or even filling up on gas while they’re visiting.

“It increases the volume of visitors to an area. It can also increase, possibly, the length of stay that those visitors might spend in your area. And it brings in local sales tax revenue,” Noggle explains. 

National data support that notion: a survey of Western states shared by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture showed agritourists spent one fifth of their trip on the actual tourism site—and a combined 70 percent on lodging, shopping and meals nearby.

Right now, there’s heightened interest in the Ozarks, partly due to the popular Netflix series bearing the region’s name.

David Burton with the University of Missouri Extension office in southwest Missouri says in addition to revenue, agritourism offers the public a more tangible connection with the farming world.

“We’re all still eating and we’re all still benefiting from agriculture, but we’re just removed from it," Burton says. "That’s another great thing about agritourism; it exposes people to agriculture and where their food or fiber is coming from. And that’s an important thing to know, especially when it comes to policy decisions.”

The MU Extension hosts an annual Ag tour for Greene County officials and media, which is how we discovered Willard’s program. And the Extension is planning a one-day conference on the basics of Agritourism in Warsaw on Friday, October 11. 

Variety of enterprises under the 'agritourism' banner

Experts say there’s tremendous variety under the banner of agritourism.

For example, in Rogersville, Stephanie Wubbena operates Goats and Yoga, where goats and people can interact with one another in a unique way.

"Goats have a natural ability and inclination to jump up on the highest thing. And so when you get people together with goats and you're kind of down on your hands and knees, they'll want to jump up on your back, and so that's how we kind of meld the animals and the people together," Wubbena tells KSMU.

Wubbena says the operation draws people from Springfield and beyond.

"Almost every weekend we will have someone from either Tulsa, St. Louis, Kansas City...and in fact we've had quite a handful of people that have come down to Springfield just so they can do goats and yoga," Wubbena says.

Agritourism is considered “place-based innovation” – basically, thinking creatively about what people could do, right where they currently are.

For more on exploring agritourism, including a worksheet with different ideas for would-be entrepreneurs, you can click here.

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.