One way to support agricultural economic development efforts in rural areas is to promote the diversification of farm-related activities. This typically takes the form of permitting the pursuit of value-added, agriculturally related, accessory commercial uses on working farms. The terms agricultural tourism or agritourism are commonly used to describe any activity incidental to the operation of a farm that brings members of the public to the farm for educational, recreational, or retail purposes.
Because many local zoning codes prohibit all undefined uses and activities, it is important for communities to specifically address agritourism uses in their plans and ordinances — both to allow farmers to integrate such uses into their operations and to control the potential negative impacts to rural character and agricultural practices that may result.
From this page you can search for resources that provide background, policy guidance, and examples of local plan recommendations and zoning standards for agritourism from across the country. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.
Many challenges to traditional farming economies, including development pressures, rising costs, and falling prices, have forced farmers to explore a wide range of options to maintain financial viability. One of these options is diversifying into agricultural tourism activities, including the direct marketing of farm products. Other agritourism activities are those that involve visiting a working farm for enjoyment of, education about, or involvement in farming activities.
Direct marketing of farm products to consumers allows farmers to gain the full value of their products and can be accomplished through on-site produce stands as well as value-added agricultural product processing and retail facilities. Educational or recreational agritourism uses can include farm tours, farm classes, farm stays, corn mazes, harvest festivals, and other similar events. Use of farms for special private events, such as weddings, receptions, or private parties, may also be considered as an agritourism use.
Planning and Zoning for Agritourism
For communities that wish to support and promote their local agricultural sectors through agritourism, a good place to start is to incorporate goals, objectives, policies, or action items within the comprehensive plan identifying agritourism as an important approach to strengthening the farming sector. This is typically addressed in an agriculture element, though it can be reinforced within the economic development element. Agritourism strategies can also be incorporated into functional plans, such as farmland protection plans or agricultural economic development plans.
Counties and municipalities may adopt zoning regulations that encourage agritourism and its accompanying economic benefits by allowing for these activities without imposing undue burdens or costs on farmers. Typically, this is done is by defining agritourism uses within the code and permitting them as accessory uses to primary agricultural uses within the zoning ordinance. Some communities add the general term “agritourism” to use lists, with more specific definitions and standards listed in a supplemental standards section. Alternatively, ordinances can list out different specific agritourism enterprises as either by-right primary uses, permitted accessory uses, or special or conditional uses to retain more control over such development.
Most agritourism ordinances limit such enterprises to “authentic” accessory uses that support and promote working farms to avoid the commercial development of tourist or recreational facilities incompatible with rural character that may eventually undermine the viability of agricultural operations. Specific development standards seek to mitigate undue impacts on rural agricultural districts and working farmland. Such standards may address minimum parcel sizes and maximum facility sizes, setbacks, parking, signage, noise, nuisances, and hours of operation.
Special events, such as festivals, weddings, concerts, or art shows, are often specifically addressed, as they have the potential for greater negative impacts on rural character and working farm operations. Ordinances may allow a certain number of special events of a limited size by right, but require special use or special event permits for larger or more frequent events. Provisions may include performance or operational standards addressing minimum parcel size, amplified sound, outdoor lighting, and the maximum number of guests allowed at events.
Support for this collection was provided by the Growing Food Connections Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.