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Explore agritourism opportunities at summit

The Agritourism Summit and Pre-Summit Farm Tour is set for May 7-8 in Traverse City, Mich.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

May 1, 2024

3 Min Read
A young man helping a girl that is sitting on a saddle
AGRITOURISM CONFERENCE: Michigan State University Extension has put together the 2024 Agritourism Summit and Pre-Summit Farm Tour, set for May 7-8 in Traverse City. This agritourism photo was taken last summer at Gull Meadow Farms in Richland, Mich. Jennifer Kiel

With margins tightening on almost all commodities, agriculture may have some challenging days ahead. Is there an opportunity to get more from farming than just a commodity price?

Agritourism may provide the opportunity to marry the two.

“Agritourism can be a way for farmers to increase revenue,” says Robert Sirrine, Michigan State University Extension senior educator out of Suttons Bay. “U-pick operations, wedding venues, fundraiser dinners, cut-your-own Christmas trees, pick-your-own pumpkins, wineries, farm breweries, corn mazes, farm-to-table restaurants, and specialty shops — there are many opportunities.”

Sirrine says it’s particularly difficult to operate a mid-scale commodity farm because it’s tough to compete with large farming operations, and they don’t have the flexibility of smaller farms.

“Large farms have the economy of scale — they’ve consolidated and are vertically integrated, while smaller farms can more easily embrace direct marketing,” he says. “But we need our mid-scale farms to succeed.”

How to get started

Michigan State University Extension has put together the 2024 Agritourism Summit and Pre-Summit Farm Tour, set for May 7-8 in Traverse City, to start a conversation with anyone who is interested and to explore options.

The event targets Michigan farmers, municipal officials, agritourism businesses and other community leaders with an interest in rural entrepreneurship and economic development.

“Assuming people value agriculture and the rural character of a region, how do we maintain that into the future?” Sirrine asks. “What do we want our region to look like in 20 to 50 years? I don’t think anyone wants a 24-hour, summerlong carnival at every farm or mega-mansions on 5-acre lots. So, if having a few weddings in your barn can help you keep your farm, there should be a way to figure that out. It will look different in different communities. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Tourism contributed $3.1 billion to the state in 2022, and agriculture generates nearly $105 billion annually, yet Michigan farmers are still struggling financially, Sirrine says. “These two industries both drive revenue and provide jobs for the state, but we must find the right balance between helping farmers thrive and bolstering local economic development, while preserving our rural and agricultural character.”

Combining agriculture and tourism on a single farm property provides significant economic opportunity for both the farmer and the local municipality.

“This collaborative summit aims to plant seeds for future growth, which can create a resilient, sustainable and more viable agritourism industry for generations to come,” says Sirrine, who notes they also plan to help people understand Right to Farm and Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices (GAAMPS). “We also plan to discuss planning and zoning for agritourism and the resources available for growers, including Northern Initiatives, Greenstone, MSU, etc.”

Pre-Summit Farm Tour

The Pre-Summit Farm Tour and welcome soirée is set for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 7 and includes round-trip coach transportation, lunch, and on-site food and beverage samples. Visits to multiple agritourism operations in Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties include:

  • Jacobs Farm

  • Leelanau Cheese (awarded Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards in Spain for their Raclette)

  • 9 Bean Rows Farmstead, Café, Bakery, and CSA

  • Tandem Ciders’s production facility

  • Farm Club for the welcome soirée, including two complimentary drink tickets, appetizers and networking

Agritourism Summit

The Agritourism Summit is set for 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 8 at Hagerty Center in Traverse City, Mich. The agenda includes:

  • Why Agritourism? Stories from Across the Region

  • Economics of Farming: A Changing Agricultural Landscape

  • The state of agritourism in Michigan: State and Regional Trends

  • The role of Michigan Right to Farm Act and Farm Market GAAMPS in Agritourism

  • Keynote: Collaboration and Connectivity in Agritourism

  • Municipal Examples: Planning and Zoning for Agritourism’s Elusive Form and Function

  • Navigating the Regulatory Corn Maze: Peer-to-Peer Learning and Engagement

  • Agritourism: What is Needed for Success, Removing Barriers, and Navigating the Maze

  • Resources to Support Growers

Register at events.anr.msu.edu.


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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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