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ARTICLES

America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural


Tourism in Michigan*

Gregory Veeck
Western Michigan University

Deborah Che
Kansas State University

Ann Veeck
Western Michigan University

Agricultural tourism incorporates visits to farms for the purposes of on-site retail purchases, enjoyment, and
education. Long popular in the European Union (EU), agritourism is gaining popularity throughout the United
States. Interest has grown as a result of stagnant grain prices, rising farm costs, and growing international com-
petition. For rural areas seeking new economic options, the potential of these operations to generate new sources of
income through sales and horizontal linkages to other tourism-based activities has sparked interest beyond the
farm gate. This article, based on a survey and a statistical analysis of 300 agritourism operations in Michigan,
summarizes factors associated with successful operations. Key Words: agritourism, Michigan, rural development.

Our farm is 140 acres and we used to be heavy he global restructuring of agriculture re-
into commercial agriculture . . . cherries, peach-
es, and apples, and eighteen years ago, my mom
T quiring scale economies, coupled with con-
sumer concerns about the safety of ‘‘industrial’’
and dad started the retail portion with one hay food production, has resulted in the transfor-
wagon and make-your-own caramel apples in
mation of ‘‘working’’ countrysides based on
our barn where we threw sheets over all the
equipment and the tools and we turned it into a
agro-industrial production to new forms shaped
retail (operation) for September and October. by entrepreneurial uses of local resources
Now, it’s grown into four hay wagons and a (Marsden et al. 1993). One of these new forms,
haunted house, animal farm, cornfield maze, U- agritourism, has considerable potential to
pick apples, caterpillar crawl, and we have a small increase net revenues for relatively small,
bakery . . . and we’re doing many other enter- higher-cost producers in advanced industrial-
tainment things and, in five years, we will prob- ized countries beyond those possible from
ably be totally out of commercial agriculture, wholesale operations of similar scale ( Johnson
and (be) strictly a retail operation. It’s getting 2003). Defining agricultural tourism is some-
harder and harder commercially to make a living
thing akin to the blind men and the elephant,
with the way the prices are for the fruit that we’re
raising. So, not only am I transitioning from but there is general agreement that agritourism
generations, but basically trying to revolutionize incorporates visits to farms for the purposes of
the business so I’m able to stay and hopefully on-site retail purchases, enjoyment, and educa-
have something there for my kids. tion (cooking classes, flower classes, and farm
—Sixth-generation Michigan farmer history among others; Small Farm Center

*We dedicate this article to Sandra Hill, who was an early and persuasive supporter of agritourism in Michigan. Sandy wore many ‘‘hats’’ well: farmer,
state legislator (1/1993–12/1996), MDA employee, and agritourism activist. Many will miss her.
This project was conducted jointly by researchers in the Geography Department of Western Michigan University and by the Michigan Department of
Agriculture. Funding for the project was made possible through a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. We are very grateful for
this support. We also wish to thank the editor and the four anonymous reviewers whose comments significantly improved this article.

The Professional Geographer, 58(3) 2006, pages 235–248 r Copyright 2006 by Association of American Geographers.
Initial submission, May 2004; revised submissions, March 2005 and September 2005; final acceptance, November 2005.
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, U.K.
236 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

2004). Participating farmers hope for signifi- characteristics of these businesses, including
cant and steady retail sales, but the components promotional costs, wages, taxes, and revenues.
of entertainment and education that are also These data are evaluated through regression
provided make agritourism more than simply a analysis to identify the relationships among the
relocation of retail sales to a family farm. Long variables and the net income reported by these
important in the European Union (EU), agri- agritourism businesses. Regression analysis al-
tourism is gaining popularity throughout the lows us to estimate the contributions that a set of
United States. Interest has grown as a result of variables including visitors, advertising, and the
stagnant staple prices, rising farm costs, and number of employees make to net income. Prior
growing international competition. This shift to reporting the results of our survey and our
to agritourism is taking place in the state of regression analysis, we discuss globalization and
Michigan, where more than 90 percent of the the ongoing restructuring of the rural economy
state’s 53,273 farms are family operations, and as the context for agritourism development in
62 percent of farms reported sales of less than Europe, the United States, and specifically
$10,000 for the 2002 Agricultural Census Michigan. We then present our findings on
(USDA 2003). the economic conditions and relationships as-
Push factors evolving in traditional wholesale sociated with these farms using data from a 2003
agriculture have made conversions to agritour- mail survey of 302 on-farm agritourism opera-
ism more attractive to many of Michigan’s tors. We offer our conclusions and recommen-
smaller family farm operations. Low priced im- dations on how to further this strategy for rural
ports and agglomeration in the fruit and dairy economic development and diversification.
industries have put pressure on small whole-
sale fruit, vegetable, maple syrup, and honey
operations. Many feed-based farms (corn and The Challenge of the Global
soybeans) also face new pressures from domes- Marketplace
tic producers and slumping exports.
In addition to push factors, the potential for Agriculture has always been an uncertain busi-
increased revenues and profits ( pull factors) also ness. Global trade patterns have changed dra-
favors the development of agritourism in Mich- matically in recent decades for all agricultural
igan. Michigan’s diverse climate and products, commodities, including corn, barley, sorghum,
the relatively high population density through- rice, wheat, soybeans, cotton, tobacco, fruits,
out the southern third of the state, and the vegetables, essential oils, and other specialty
proximate large urban areas in adjacent states crops such as honey. Most experts include the
give agritourism great potential for the creative following factors as root causes of the current
farmers of Michigan. Operations as diverse as reorganization of the global food, drug, and
roadside produce stands, vineyards with win- fiber system: (1) the inclusion of agricultural
eries, retail/wholesale greenhouses selling cut products in the 1994 World Trade Organization
flowers and bedding plants, apple orchards, (WTO) agreements has brought new producers
berry U-picks, Christmas tree farms offering such as Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and
cocoa and sleigh rides, and spring and fall on- even China into the global marketplace (Knox,
farm farmers’ markets can potentially raise farm Agnew, and McCarthy 2003); (2) livestock and
incomes while offering consumers farm-fresh avian diseases within the United States, and
produce, educational and recreational opportu- more importantly abroad, have slowed both
nities, and social interaction with growers. meat/poultry exports and domestic meat con-
This article summarizes the current status of sumption, reducing domestic and international
agritourism in Michigan based on a detailed grain demand; and (3) trade/consumer disa-
survey of family farms operating as agritourism greements regarding the safety and environ-
businesses. We report on the range of activities mental impacts of genetically modified (GM)
that comprise Michigan’s agritourism industry, grains, oil crops, tobacco, and cotton have low-
and provide data derived from our survey to ered demand for some GM varieties of these
illustrate the importance of these firms to the products, while dampening overall demand for
rural economy, including the number of visitors U.S. imports due to fear of ‘‘genetic pollution’’
to the different types of operations, and the or cross-pollination of GM varieties with local
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 237
varieties (Wright and Nebel 2002; Hsin 2003; adjusted even if the land is later restored to crop
Cunningham, Cunningham, and Saigo 2005). production. Also, scale economies cannot easily
Consequently, U.S. wheat, corn, and rice ex- be reached for grain and/or hay for dairy oper-
ports have stagnated or declined since the ‘‘good ations on farms of fewer than 500 acres.
old days’’ of the early 1980s. This slowing of Although corn, soybeans, and hay have tra-
exports is the opposite of expectations when the ditionally been Michigan’s most important
United States demanded in 1994 that agricul- crops in terms of sown acreage, they have nev-
ture be included in the Uruguay Round of talks er been the most profitable crops in a state
that initiated the WTO (Weidman 1996). As blessed with fine soils and diverse climates.
exports have slowed, domestic prices through- Family farm operations for fruits and dairy are
out much of the Midwest have declined. At the much smaller in terms of farm size, but their
same time, prices are also more volatile. Most value per acre is much greater. In fact, by dollar
experts now feel that U.S. grain producers will value, milk is Michigan’s most valuable farm
continue to face flat price projections and product ($793,800,000 in 2003; NASS 2004).
shrinking markets in the short to medium term From the late 1980s until the mid-1990s fruits
(USDA 2004). As a consequence, the average and vegetables became increasingly popular
amount of U.S. farmland devoted to export crops in Michigan as farms accrued higher re-
crops has declined from 103.6 million acres in turns per acre compared to returns for grains,
1980 to 77 million acres in 2003, a decline of dry beans, or sugar beets.
25.6 percent (USDA 2003). Better enforcement Unfortunately, the smaller wholesale fruit
of tariff agreements, a gradual reduction in in- and vegetable operations that produce some of
ternational grain stocks, and the promise of the highest quality apples, blueberries, cherries,
amiable solutions to GM export bans currently and asparagus in the nation have had a difficult
in place for Japan, South Korea, and the EU may time competing in the current global market-
reverse the outlook for exports in the future, but place. Part of this trend is the result of greater
at least for now many small farmers are suffer- international competition. Congressional ap-
ing. At present, it is clear that the market ex- proval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations
pansion anticipated by the U.S. Department of ( PNTR) with China in October 2000 was
Agriculture for American agriculture in the initially viewed by the Michigan Department
post-WTO era has not occurred as expected. of Agriculture (MDA) as key to sustaining the
As exports have slowed, a greater amount of economic viability of Michigan’s food and
low-cost grain has remained within the U.S. agriculture producers since it would open the
market, depressing prices and lowering net Chinese market (Michigan Department of Ag-
returns for many types of farms. Equally im- riculture 2002). However, with its similar grow-
portant, smaller farms are having a harder time ing seasons and crops, China has proved to be a
competing with the agribusinesses that are often major competitor for many U.S. agricultural
their neighbors. products, including some important Michigan
Farm scale has long played a role in the crops such as apples, honey, and garden/house
efficiency of any farming operation in the Unit- plants (NASS 2004).
ed States, including the family farm. The aver- Although direct competition is certainly sig-
age U.S. farm in 2002 incorporated 441 acres. nificant in some cases, Michigan farmers do not
The average Michigan farm was 189 acres, or always go head-to-head with farmers from Chi-
42.8 percent of the national average (USDA na or other developing nations. Just as Michigan
2003). Michigan grain farmers have been was developing a competitive asparagus market
squeezed more than most—they have less acre- with a well-organized co-op, skilled growers,
age but higher costs. For many smaller farms, and excellent brand recognition, lower-priced
the production of traditional crops is no longer asparagus from Mexico, Chile, and Ecuador
providing an acceptable income from the land. flooded the market and Michigan growers were
Farmland is more expensive in Michigan due to once again looking for alternatives. More often
intervening opportunities (nonfarm uses) and than direct competition, agricultural imports
state tax regulations. Taxes are adjusted and from developing nations to west and southeast
increased if land is sold and taken out of agri- coast markets cause a ‘‘ripple effect’’ that chang-
culture even once; the tax structure is not re- es the economics of production in Michigan.
238 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

For example, as China exports apple juice con- tively high returns that are possible with a well-
centrate to U.S. wholesalers, apple farmers in run agricultural tourism operation.
Washington and California face increasing
pressure to move lower grade fruit into other
markets. Because China now controls 43 per- Agritourism as a Response to
cent of the global apple juice concentrate trade Agricultural Restructuring
(NASS 2004), growers in western states
have started to ship more apples into the Declining exports and changes in rural land use
Midwest rather than converting the apples are related to the growth potential for Michigan
to concentrate that is more expensive than agritourism. Although agritourism has taken
Chinese imports. This means greater competi- place in areas such as alpine Austria for nearly
tion in Michigan’s regional markets for fresh one-hundred years ( Pevetz 1991), it has recent-
apples, leading to lower Midwest prices. The ly become a key strategy in the EU’s 1992 and
case for apples and apple juice is far from 1996 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to
unique. Many Michigan farm products face diversify agricultural economies impacted by
similar competition, including honey/wax from cost-price squeezes and the technological tread-
China, grapes from Chile, vegetables from mill (Busby and Rendle 2000; Nilsson 2002).
Mexico, and peaches and Christmas trees from Agritourism, which is supported by structural
the U.S. Southeast. adjustment funding in the EU, fits into the
Another important cause of declining com- multifunctional European model of agriculture.
petitiveness results from the domestic aggrega- Agriculture is viewed as key to maintaining food
tion of farms and dairies in Michigan and production/security, rural landscapes, and en-
throughout the United States. This aggrega- vironmental protection (Hollander 2003). In
tion can result in larger, more stable farms, agrarian-touristic peripheries not suited for in-
but it often leaves many farm families without tensive agriculture, but where the primary, sec-
opportunity. Supersized dairy and hog farms are ondary, and tertiary sectors are coordinated and
turning a large profit for a very limited number local specialties are produced for local con-
of Michigan farmers, but smaller operations sumption and export, tourism and related land
find it difficult to remain in business without uses can result in interregional transfer of ex-
changing strategies because larger firms push ternal resources and endogenous development
wholesale prices below the break-even prices of (Conrad 1990). Agritourism, which attracts
smaller enterprises. Dairy operations with more urbanites nostalgic for the rural experience of
that 3,000 head, termed Concentrated Animal their childhood, offers the possibilities of selling
Feeding Operations (CAFOs), now account high-value local/regional foods to guests,
for one-fourth of Michigan’s $3.5 billion farm renting rooms, creating jobs, and maintaining
sector. Estimates by the MDA suggest there the regional service base ( Pevetz 1991; Busby
are only 200 to 300 of these supersized dairy and Rendle 2000; Nilsson 2002; Clemens
farms in the state, a fraction of the 5,600 hog 2004). Agritourism involving farm stays and
and dairy operations that exist in Michigan. In branded regions for wine, cheese, and fruit have
the coming decade, if CAFOs are not limited, helped small European farms deal with falling
other dairy farms in Michigan will find it in- prices for commodities for years (Slee, Farr,
creasingly difficult to survive (Christoff 2003a, and Snowdon 1997; Grykien 1999; Ilbery et al.
2003b). Michigan’s agricultural sector is simul- 1998).
taneously headed in two different directions: To date, agricultural tourism in the United
(1) large factory farms that ‘‘mass-produce States is not as extensively developed as in the
cheap produce for the supermarkets’’ and (2) EU. Agritourism is often overlooked in overall
limited acreage entrepreneurial farms that sell appraisals of the U.S. farm sector due to
fresh and organic produce on site or in farmers’ the relatively small size of many operations,
markets and/or participate in the growing agri- the lack of national political action committees,
tourism industry (Brooks and Lynch 2004, 1A). and a shortage of reliable data with respect to
Because small-scale farming operations face the number of operations and their revenues,
problems competing in wholesale markets, employment, and economic impact. However,
there is considerable enthusiasm for the rela- rural areas in the United States, seeking new
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 239
economic strategies, are increasingly interested these regions held the earliest statewide confer-
in farm-based agritourism operations to gen- ences promoting agritourism. States in the
erate new sources of income through sales, Midwest, South, and West generally followed
services, and related horizontal linkages with suit in the late 1980s (Mahoney 1987; Gartner,
other tourism-based local activities (Small Farm Limback, and Adiarte 1996).
Center 2004). Agritourism already represents a Beyond the farm gate, agricultural tourism
significant and enduring source of farm income, offers important opportunities for links be-
rural employment, and state and local tax rev- tween agricultural producers and the tourism
enues in the rapidly changing agricultural econ- industry, resulting in increased regional eco-
omy (Nickerson, Black, and McCool 2001). nomic benefits and reduced leakage (Berno
Given the rising operating costs and stagnant or 2004; Telfer and Wall 1996; Torres 2002). A
declining wholesale prices for many field crops, Canadian example is offered by the Taste of
as well as those for milk, poultry, and livestock, Niagara, an alliance of food producers, proces-
conversion of traditional commodity-based sors, distributors, hotels, wineries, restaurants,
farms to agritourism operations has enabled and chefs in Ontario’s Niagara Region that pro-
many part-time farm families to retain control motes the use of local products in the tourism
of their farms (Nickerson, Black, and McCool industry (Telfer 2000). Increased interconnec-
2001; Johnson 2003; Lange 2003). The farm tions between the farm and the restaurant table
businesses in turn provide visitors with a chance can increase sales of local produce as well as
to visit rural America and spend time outdoors promote local cuisine. Local cuisine may devel-
with family and friends (Farmstop.com 2004; op into a peak part of the tourist experience,
SMRDCB 2004). Moreover, for consumers in- rather than being a supplemental experience
creasingly distrustful of the nation’s food supply, merely extending the ontological comfort of
agritourism operations offer farm-to-table links home food consumption (Quan and Wang
with new, possibly more healthy alternatives to 2004).
domestic or international superfarms and their Agritourism businesses can also increase rev-
‘‘industrial’’ produce. Although organic pro- enues at other proximate tourism-related firms
duce may be the fastest growing trend in this and amenities such as restaurants, hotels, gift
regard, many families simply wish to purchase stores, and gas stations. A $15.00 trip to pick
locally grown produce that is ‘‘fresher’’ than apples on the farm may entail a visit to a corn
the fruits and vegetables sold in chain super- maze or haunted house along the way, stopping
markets. for a nice meal to celebrate after ‘‘the harvest,’’ a
Given the declining profitability for Ameri- quick stop at a nearby craft shop or bakery to get
ca’s smaller farms, many small-farm families a few gifts, or even a boat trip or wagon ride at
have turned to agritourism. In every state there dusk to top off a wonderful day in the country.
is a complex spatiotemporal geography to these Estimated savings of 50 percent or more can
conversions. Small, rural farms accessible to accrue from picking your own produce (LeDuc
urban areas capitalize first by ‘‘harvesting’’ near- Farms 2003), but saving a few dollars on apples,
by consumers looking for cheaper produce, or- blueberries, or strawberry jam three or four
ganic produce, specialty crops, and/or a relaxing times a year does not fully explain the growing
day in the country. Those states with high pop- popularity of on-farm sales and visits, or why the
ulation density coupled with small mean farm estimates of attendance for agritourism in many
size, including Vermont, New Hampshire, and states are growing at a record-setting pace
Maryland, recognized the potential of agricul- (SMRCDB 2004). U.S. agritourism operations
tural tourism earlier than states with fewer large also sell prepared food (donuts, pies, and cider)
cities and lower population density. As a conse- and farm products ( fruits, vegetables, plants,
quence, the U.S. Northeast and Atlantic states and trees), but just as important they offer a
developed state networks promoting agricul- ‘‘farm experience,’’ a chance for fresh air and a
tural tourism earlier than did states in the West day outside:
and the Midwest. Departments of agriculture in
the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic states also Tourism is the fastest growing business in the
provided the most sophisticated support (Hilc- world. And since September 11, customers are
hey 1993; Kuehn et al. 2000). In the late 1970s, seeking safer ways to have an enjoyable experi-
240 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

ence. Agricultural tourism can bridge the gap difficult to collect comparable data in a large
between farm and city dwellers, to the benefit of enough sample to make statistically sound gen-
both. At one time most city people had relatives eralizations. Only with a significant sample
in the countryside, they no longer have them size can any reliable generalizations be made
available since so few people live on farms. Many regarding the economic importance of these
city people want farm vacations, to get away, but
operations.
they don’t have relatives or friends who are
farmers. . . . Agricultural tourism provides en- After discussions with the heads of some
joyment and education for the public, promotes growers groups who helped with recruiting, in
products for the farm, and increases income for 2003 members of the project team convened
the farm. . . . Most of all, they want to see how three Michigan agritourism focus groups in
a real farm works and to be a part of that cycle three parts of the state: in Kalamazoo (south-
of life for a time. west Michigan), Ellsworth (northwest lower
—(Cross 2004) peninsula), and Flint (approximately 50 miles
Agritourism is coming of age in the United north of Detroit) with the eventual goal of
States. As recommended by the USDA Advisory implementing a systematic agritourism survey.
Committee on Agricultural Statistics, the 2007 The Flint focus group met via a video network.
U.S. Agricultural Census will have a new section Each of the three focus groups included people
devoted to agritourism (Advisory Committee from six to nine family farm agritourism oper-
2002). Until this nationwide survey is complete, ations. The sessions elicited ideas and opinions
comprehensive statistics related to agritourism of agritourism operators to help design a com-
do not exist. However, with the goal of estab- prehensive survey to assess the impact of agri-
lishing benchmark data on the contributions of tourism on Michigan’s economy. The survey
these businesses to the state and local economy contained questions about location, products
and culture, a team from Western Michigan and services, visitation, income, employees,
University (WMU) and the MDA instituted a wages, revenues, and advertising. Additionally,
survey intended to identify the economic and several sets of questions were designed to iden-
cultural benefits of Michigan’s agritourism sec- tify opinions related to the benefits of these
tor. This article reports some of the results of businesses, as well as problems that operators
the survey and analyzes these data through currently face. Responses to these questions
regression analysis to identify factors associated were evaluated using five-point Likert scales to
with predicting net income. gauge the severity and significance of each prob-
lem. The survey also incorporated a number of
open-ended questions related to current and
Data: The Michigan Agricultural future concerns and problems. The project for-
Tourism Survey mat, including the development of surveys for
both firms and consumers, followed that of
Until recently, little systematic research had Slee, Farr, and Snowdon’s (1997) comprehen-
been done to evaluate the economic impact (in- sive study of rural tourism in Scotland. Only the
come, wages, taxes) of the increasingly impor- portion of this survey related to the economic
tant agritourism businesses in Michigan. This is impact of agritourism with respect to visitors,
because, first, state government leaders are still employment, advertising, and income is analy-
not sure who should collect the data and pro- zed in this study.
mote agritourism. The traditional state tourism After evaluating the survey, the MDA mailed
department, Travel Michigan, is just now con- the forms to approximately 1,500 agritourism
sidering how to promote these farm businesses, operations—a number determined by budget-
once considered as out of their area. The MDA ary constraints facing the MDA, which paid for
has an Agricultural Development Division with this portion of the project. All mailed surveys
five full-time employees, but no one is assigned went to family-based firms, and, throughout the
solely to promoting agritourism, though some article, we intend the terms family farm and firm
in the office feel more attention must be paid to to be interchangeable. Additional surveys were
agritourism development if and when the state distributed at various industry meetings and
budget crisis eases (Craig 2005). Second, given conventions during late 2002 and early 2003.
the great diversity in the types of operations, it is Approximately 20 percent, or 311 surveys (301
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 241
usable), were returned to the MDA by June source of revenue. After an initial classification
2003 and were included in this analysis. based on fourteen types of operations, all farms
Prior to presenting findings, it is important to were reclassified as one of ten types of opera-
discuss the limitations of this study. Currently tions. Of course, agritourism in Michigan takes
there is no way of knowing the relationship many forms, including U-pick fruits, on-farm
between our sample of 301 usable surveys and farmers’ markets,2 and various seasonal attrac-
the entire population of such firms in Michigan. tions such as Fall/Halloween operations or
No determination can be made of exactly how those centered on Christmas. Table 1 summa-
many family farms engage in agritourism activ- rizes these categories and the associated prod-
ities, although Hill estimated that more than ucts and services offered. Many of the farms
4,000 family farms in Michigan1 are involved. obviously offer products from more than one
Assuming her estimate is correct, this would category but were assigned to a group based on
mean that approximately 7.5 percent of all farms the owner’s opinion of the most important
in Michigan derive at least some of their income (lucrative) activities that were offered to farm
from agritourism activities. Every effort was visitors. Because of Michigan’s diverse climate
taken to distribute surveys whenever possible and the relatively high population density
but we do not believe the survey to be entirely throughout the southern half of the state,
random. Farmers who are more active in com- Michigan has the widest possible range of agri-
modity groups and with stronger MDA ties are tourism activities. Some activities are those that
probably overrepresented. Nevertheless, the would be expected: U-picks for berries, apples,
survey represents the first systematic study of pears, peaches, and apricots, or pumpkin patch-
this increasingly important type of tourism for es with corn mazes and haunted houses for Hal-
many rural places in Michigan. loween. Others, such as deer parks for petting
and feeding deer, vineyards with wine-making
Results and Discussion classes, or dairy farms where visitors milk a cow,
pasteurize the milk, and make ice cream, are less
The following subsections summarize the main common. Still, all of the operations summarized
types of agritourism operations identified from in Table 1 offer on-farm retail sales of some
the survey. Farm characteristics are based on group of core products, along with variable
301 usable surveys, and include descriptions of amounts of rural relaxation and education.
the types of operations that participated in the The products and activities offered by each
survey, as well as summaries of the length of business partially determine the periods of op-
operation, net sales and net income, the num- eration, and the income generated by agritour-
bers of visitors to the farms, promotional ef- ism. Based on survey results, 81 percent of the
forts, total wages paid, and characteristics of the agritourism firms in our sample were open sea-
employment offered. The summaries of the sonally, and 19 percent were open year round
various types of agritourism operations are fol- (Table 2). The average number of full days of
lowed by the presentation of an ordinary least operation was 174.5 days, but the standard
squares (OLS) linear regression model designed deviation was 115 days. Thus, there is a consid-
to estimate the effects of the variables men- erable range in how important agritourism ac-
tioned earlier on the net incomes reported by a tivities are to annual incomes. Many of our focus
subsample of these businesses. Only some busi- group informants indicated that product and
nesses participating in the study reported their service diversification—that is, developing ac-
net incomes, so the sample used for the regres- tivities and products that allowed the farms to
sion analysis included sixty-four households. extend the time they could remain open—was
We conclude with an interpretation of results one of the most critical strategies for a successful
and some thoughts on methodological prob- operation. Apple orchards must add a pumpkin
lems and issues for further study. patch and corn/sorghum mazes to operate later
into the fall. Similarly, fall markets can open
Characteristics of Agritourism Operations earlier in spring or summer by adding a fish-
After the surveys were returned to the MDA, the pond, a petting zoo, or a strawberry U-pick.
data were coded and each business was classified The number of operating days is not neces-
for analysis based on the dominant self-reported sarily correlated to the number of visitors
242 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

Table 1 Ten major types of agritourism operations in Michigan


Category and number
of operations Description of products and services

1. Berries (36) U-pick berry fruits: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Often provide picking
buckets, water, hand washing stations, and rides to fields. Additional retail food products such as jams,
syrup, and baked goods are also offered.
2. Orchard (55) U-pick or ready-to-sell tree fruits: apples, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums. Many provide other
products such as snacks, jams, and jellies. Coffee, pie, cider, and donuts are often sold in the fall season.
3. Farm market (54) Typically an in-town location with assorted fruits and vegetables. May also include crafts, baked goods,
jams, and jellies. The most diverse product lines are offered by these operations.
4. Fall harvest (34) These are diverse, usually seasonal, operations combining retail sales with farm experiences. Fall foods,
including pies, cider, candies, and donuts are offered in conjunction with U-pick apples, hay rides,
pumpkin patches, and corn mazes. Some locations may also have a haunted house or haunted/regular
sorghum or corn maze.
5. Christmas (33) Evergreen tree farm with U-cut Christmas trees. Some have a holiday shop selling candy, coffee, hot
cocoa, wreaths and boughs, stands, ornaments, and precut trees. Some also sell ‘‘flocked’’ trees, and a
number offer wagon/sleigh rides in December.
6. Animal products and Variety of offerings: animal observation in natural settings; organized hunting ranches; sheep, alpaca,
attractions (19) and llama farms with natural fiber sales; stocked fishponds; and petting zoos. Horseback riding is also
included here, but in the context of on-farm sales of related products as well.
7. Farm experience (10) Dairy farms, but also include operations that offer a variety of produce and fruits in conjunction with
activities such as wagon rides, petting zoos, equipment/activity demonstrations, and farm tours. There
is a strong element of visitor participation, as well as a frequent focus on historical and contemporary
activities.
8. Honey/maple (10) Variety of products centered on either honey/wax or maple sugar, syrups, and sauces. In most cases
many other food-related products are also sold, such as herb teas and spices.
9. Nursery (36) Wide range of bedding plants, annuals, perennials, ornamental shrubs, trees, and landscaping services.
10. Vineyard (14) Wine tasting, wine, grapes, fruit cordials, and vineyard tours.

Source: Generated by the farm surveys.

( Pearson’s r ¼ .224, p ¼ .001). In fact, the vari- tourist destinations. Thus, in addition to em-
ous types of ‘‘Fall Harvest’’ operations (Hal- ployment and taxes, farm operations spin off
loween-based operations, apples, cider, fall benefits to local economies. Well-promoted
markets) have a relatively short (seventh low- agritourism operations can bring an influx of
est) average season of 137.29 days, but reported people (and dollars) to many small towns akin to
the greatest average number of visitors per having the July 4th parade every day.
operation (n ¼ 37,628; Table 3). The arrival of The busiest seasons, based on customer visits,
this many customers in almost any rural area of were fall (40 percent of visitors) and summer (35
Michigan obviously presents some challenges percent), with the remainder of visitors almost
(traffic, noise) but is also a considerable oppor- equally divided between spring and winter. Ob-
tunity for nearby businesses, state parks, and viously, these figures are also somewhat contin-

Table 2 Comparative statistics for full days of operation for the ten categories of agritourism firms
Mean no. Std. Std. Minimum no. Maximum no.
Type of Operation N of days deviation error of days of days

Animal products 18 274.61 101.968 24.034 90 365


Berries 35 99.23 58.399 9.871 27 214
Christmas 31 50.39 57.777 10.377 23 267
Fall harvest 34 137.29 88.893 15.245 21 365
Farm market 53 176.94 85.286 11.715 16 365
Farm experience 9 232.56 129.937 43.312 55 365
Honey/maple syrup 9 339.44 54.512 18.171 210 365
Nurseries 35 224.94 92.568 15.647 45 365
Orchards 52 161.15 106.834 14.815 30 365
Vineyards 14 356.43 32.071 8.571 245 365
Total 290 173.84 114.937 6.749 16 365

Source: Summarized from the farm surveys.


Note: The total number 290 reflects the fact that responses were not provided on some of the 301 useable surveys.
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 243
Table 3 Mean values for selected variables by type of agritourism operation
Full-time Part-time Advertising Gross Net
Category of business Customers employees employees expenses sales income

(1) Animal farms/Activities 7,597 1.75 3.89 14,875 51,227 8,975


(2) Berry farms 3,953 1.64 8.14 2,655 44,601 9,766
(3) Christmas 3,841 0.72 5.92 1,448 20,914 11,597
(4) Fall harvest 37,628 3.8 20.83 4,441 214,479 16,480
(5) Farm markets 14,035 2.55 3.83 6,171 164,479 9,518
(6) Farm experience 7,311 2 2.83 4,211 114,559 10,250
(7) Honey/maple 782 0.57 3.71 500 23,333 18,250
(8) Nurseries 3,940 3.26 4.81 7,505 152,907 25,790
(9) Orchards 10,650 2.56 13.31 4,912 201,671 9,419
(10) Vineyards 24,857 4.42 7.45 14,881 425,250 52,701
Grand means 11459.4 2.327 7.472 6,160 141,342 17,275

Source: Survey data.

gent on the types of operations. Most fruit and income of $10,000 to $15,000. It is clear that
vegetable U-pick operations draw the majority the majority of these operations serve as sup-
of their visitors in summer and fall. Halloween- plemental sources of income. Only the vine-
and Thanksgiving-related operations that we yards consistently provide full-time work and
aggregated as our ‘‘fall harvest’’ group had a very incomes.
short season, yet their number of visitors greatly The average annual gross sales for the win-
exceeded those of many of the other groups. eries participating in the survey were $425,250,
For the businesses in our sample, the most with a standard deviation of almost a half a
important products as defined by gross sales million dollars. The second highest grossing
value for each type of firm were (1) apples, (2) group was ‘‘fall harvest,’’ followed by nursery
Christmas trees, (3) pumpkins, (4) animal prod- operations that are often joint wholesale/retail
ucts (natural wools, fishing ponds, horseback operations. The enormous range in revenues
riding), (5) strawberries, (6) sweet corn, (7) blue- reflects the difficulties inherent in sample aver-
berries, (8) bedding plants, (9) other trees/shrubs, ages, but also underscores the wide range of ac-
and (10) wine/grape products (Figure 1). The tivities and types of operations included within
products that the public initially seeks when agritourism.
visiting the farms vary. Increasingly, successful The survey results also indicate the impor-
operators recognize the importance of value- tance of these firms to the local employment
added secondary products produced on the base. A typical agritourism firm employs an av-
farm or sold in on-farm retail shops, or both. An erage of just over 9.8 nonfamily workers, in-
$8.00 peck of apples brings in the customer, but cluding an average 2.3 full-time workers and 7.5
the fresh-baked pie ($6.50), the jar of apple but- part-time workers (Table 3). If family members
ter ($2.99), the gallon of cider ($2.99), or the are included, the average number of full-time
surprisingly ubiquitous ‘‘country’’ potpourri workers increases to 3.14 persons. Part-time
($4.89) raises gross revenues and profits. workers worked an average of 19.4 hours/week
A slightly different picture results when gross during the operating season. Average wages for
sales and net income by type of firm are studied shift managers in 2002 were $9.42 per hour; for
in conjunction with visitors, employees, and full-time employees, the average rate was $7.58
advertising and promotional costs. Table 3 pro- per hour. Even for part-time workers, the mean
vides mean values for these diagnostic variables hourly rate of $6.84 was above the current min-
for each of the ten types of operation, and really imum wage of $5.15 Assuming there is one shift
gets to the heart of the matter. Mean estimates manager, 2.1 full-time workers, and 10.12 part-
for net incomes by firm type vary widely from time workers (19.42 hours/week), the average
$52,701 for wineries to slightly more than firm participating in the survey paid out ap-
$9,000 for animal products and animal attrac- proximately $2,029.90 in local wages for every
tions. The numbers are surprisingly consistent, 40 hours of operation. The largest operations
with most types of operations generating a net employ dozens of people, the smallest have only
244 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

45
40
35
Number of farms

30
25
20
15
10
5
0
es

ts

es

ts

bs

es

es

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s
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an

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ow
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od

ta
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sh

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Figure 1 Most common products ranked as highest in gross sales in 2003.

one or two, but all of this enters the local econ- Grand Rapids, but they also serve as a surrogate
omy while providing part-time work for for scale and the sophistication of operations.
high school and college students throughout Firms drawing bus groups are mostly near ma-
Michigan. jor metropolitan areas, but they also expend
more advertising and effort to access the school
Explaining Variations in Net Income for groups and retirement communities offering
Agritourism Operations in Michigan bus trips. The results from the regression anal-
Regression analysis is used to explain variations ysis are presented in Table 4.
in net income based on the following variables The exploratory model uses sixty-four farms
introduced in the previous section: (1) custom- because many firms are simply unwilling to
ers (estimated number of visitors per year, provide income data (Y). The model yields an
NUMVIS); (2) promotional investments in ad- adjusted R2 of .587 (F ¼ 23.743, p ¼ .0001).
vertising (annual $ spent on all forms of adver- Based on the standardized beta coefficients
tising and signage, PROMINV); (3) bus groups (Table 4), the most important factor of those
(number of buses/year, BUSGRP); and (4) total selected for the model is the money spent on
estimated annual wages ($/year, WAGETOT). promoting the business. Every dollar spent on
The number of customers was included since promotion results in $2.51 in net revenues (not
the greater the number of visitors, the higher sales!).
sales should be. Second, although no one would The next significant predictor, total wages
dispute that advertising in America works, in- paid out, has an inverse effect on Y: the higher
clusion of promotional expenses in the model the payroll, the lower the net returns. This
allows us to establish the quantitative relation- finding raises some interesting issues related to
ship between advertising and income. Third, the optimum size of these agritourism opera-
bus groups were included as the use of buses tions, above which they cease to attract those
by public school classes for field trips really seeking a rural experience. It may be that when
underscores the educational aspects of the operations are too large, the farm experience, or
agritourism industry. Certainly more than contact with the farmer and the farm experi-
95 percent of visitors arriving on buses are ence, is lost. As mentioned earlier, saving money
elementary and middle school students. This is not really the major force behind the success
variable registered a weak correlation (r ¼ .287, of agritourism operations. On the other hand,
p ¼ .001) with the total number of visitors, so those operations more dependent on family
both variables were included in the final func- labor conserve cash by shifting the burden of
tion. School groups are only common when the longer hours to family members. In some cases,
farms are near large cities such as Lansing or these smaller operations may be more efficient,
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 245
Table 4 Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression analysis predicting income from agritourism operations:
Coefficients and model statistics for predicting annual net income by firm
Unstandardized coefficients Standardized coefficients

Model Beta Std. Error Beta t Sig.

1 (Constant) 2562.717 2283.236 1.122 .266


promomon 2.510 .432 .777 5.808 .000
numvisit .412 .143 .272 2.881 .005
busgrps 679.595 252.419 .248 2.692 .009
wagetot .219 .063 .451 3.452 .001

Source: Generated by survey data.


Notes: Dependent variable: net income per operation.
R2 ¼ .587, F ¼ 23.743, significant at .0001.
n ¼ 64 farm operations (cases).

but this economic efficiency comes at some cost. The economic benefits with respect to em-
If children are asked to work excessively long ployment and wages are clear. Of course, there
hours, they may leave the very farm the family is are benefits to the tax base as well. Questions
fighting to save to pass to the next generation. related to taxes were included in the survey but
Not surprisingly, the number of visitors and only a limited number of respondents provided
bus groups are both positively associated with answers and, in many cases, the responses in-
net income. In other words, the more people, cluded property taxes and income taxes, as well
the more sales. School groups are usually as the sales and payroll taxes that were the in-
charged a fixed rate per child. Again, the im- tended target of the question. Successful firms
portance of these businesses is greater than the must ‘‘think off-farm’’; they must invest in pro-
economic activity identified at each business. motion, produce new products, develop new
Visitors to a U-pick or farm market will spend activities, and come to grips with the complica-
additional monies along the way. The Michigan tions associated with managing group tours,
findings support the differences according to dealing with county health departments, and
the scale of operations identified in earlier lit- acquiring permission to expand road signage.
erature based on empirical studies in the EU. Benefits from agritourism go beyond opera-
tors and customers to the surrounding commu-
nities. Through on-site sales, value-added
Promoting Agritourism Has Benefits Beyond production, and services (such as school tours,
the Economy corn mazes, and Halloween activities), agri-
Agricultural tourism is an increasingly impor- tourism yields the additional income that ena-
tant option for small farm families in the state of bles operators not only to maintain a ‘‘way of
Michigan. For a variety of economic reasons, life’’ but often to retain the family farm. Admit-
many farm families have moved away from con- tedly, the strategy is not without social and psy-
ventional wholesale operations to agritourism, chological costs. Families and communities
and the public has embraced these new recre- must to some extent open their doors to trav-
ational options. There can be little doubt that, elers from afar. Customers are not always well
taken collectively, these activities potentially behaved or tidy, and small-town life sometimes
represent a growing source of income and changes with strangers around. Still, there are
employment for much of rural Michigan. Agri- many benefits beyond economics. For the cus-
tourism has many facets—from simply picking tomers, agritourism provides a place to obtain
fresher fruit, to learning to bake or make wine, fresh produce and experience nature with their
to the relaxation of a day spent horseback riding, families. For rural communities and the state of
to a wintry outing to cut the family Christmas Michigan, agritourism generates employment
tree. It seems certain that the activities provided and tourism and tax revenues, while helping to
by the state’s farmers as agritourism activities maintain open space and the viability of Mich-
will continue to diversify as new ideas are igan agriculture. By expanding product offer-
developed, tested, and implemented. ings, agritourism’s sales potential can be further
246 Volume 58, Number 3, August 2006

increased while simultaneously providing visi- small to medium-sized, locally owned agritour-
tors with greater choice. ism and rural tourism enterprises have limited
entrepreneurship capabilities related to innova-
tions in management, product development,
Conclusions and Recommendations and planning for future growth. Their owners
may be constrained entrepreneurs who lack
Given agritourism’s benefits, the state of Mich- tourism business skills and capital (Shaw and
igan should provide further support for this Williams 1998; Ioannides and Petersen 2003).
sector that integrates Michigan’s second and Although the level of entrepreneurship was not
third largest industries, tourism and agriculture. a primary focus of our research, we surmise that
At present, no employee of the MDA is charged small, Michigan agritourism operators, who
as a primary task with promoting agricultural were forced by globalization to shift from pro-
tourism or helping farm families’ transition to duction to consumption-oriented activities,
agritourism (Craig 2005). This would seem share these problems. There is a very wide
shortsighted. An important move toward a range of expertise and ambition among the farm
comprehensive study of the role of agritourism families in our sample. Strengthening existing
throughout the United States will be the inclu- operations, as well as encouraging additional
sion in the 2007 Agricultural Census of an entire agricultural businesses, especially as the market
section devoted to agricultural tourism. The is not saturated, can help to bolster an area’s
census will provide critical information with reputation for agritourism (Che, Veeck, and
respect to the numbers of farms involved and the Veeck 2005). Initially, government funding and
economic contributions of these activities. training should be targeted at two types of
Nevertheless, more must be done to actively farmers: (1) small farmers facing financial hard-
promote these activities. Agritourism operators ships (including high debt loads and poor re-
need assistance in dealing with other govern- turns on traditional field crops of fruit
mental agencies on regulatory issues such as wholesalers) who would benefit from training
zoning/local ordinances, the loss of property tax programs on how to begin such an operation;
homestead exemptions when a commercial op- and (2) efforts should be made to identify inno-
eration is developed on the farm, signage place- vative operators so that they can be encouraged
ment and fees, and a spate of multiagency/local to share their expertise and ideas with their
regulations including the health department neighbors.
regulations related to foods that are prepared Michigan agritourism offers many benefits to
and sold on-site. Families considering a switch the rural areas where these farms are located and
to agritourism need the help and support that should be supported. Beyond wages and taxes,
the MDA can provide, at least as a source of these farm activities help many families stay on
advice. Equally important, the state of Michigan the farm, and provide a new draw of customers
should provide financial support to strengthen to area businesses. Further, keeping farm fam-
the links between tourism, agriculture, and na- ilies on the farm slows urban sprawl, while
ture, especially since Michigan’s agricultural maintaining an important aspect of state history
products can help draw more visitors. The New and heritage. Finally, and perhaps more impor-
York Times recently devoted extensive print and tant than all the money is that fact that these
Web coverage to Michigan as a ‘‘flavorable va- businesses give all of us wonderful opportunities
cationland,’’ offering cherries and other tree to ‘‘go back to the farm.’’’
fruits, game, and wines and spirits (Apple 2003).
By making food a peak part of the tourism ex-
perience, Michigan can maximize its potential Notes
of drawing tourists from the state’s traditional 1
In 2002, Sandra Hill of the MDA developed a mail-
tourism-generating areas as well as from outside
ing list of more than 2,000 agritourism operations.
the region. According to Hjalager (1996), the Although many of these did not respond to the survey
eating culture is a distinctive feature of destina- or were returned due to change of address, they were
tions, yet it is underestimated in rural tourism. operating and at one time responded to MDA in-
Marketing and promotional support are crit- quiries or advertised in the Yellow Pages. Hill be-
ical. Danish and U.K. studies have found that lieved she was able to identify only half of the
America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan 247
operating firms and that the actual number might be Craig, Robert. 2005. Michigan Department of Agri-
around 4,000 businesses. This was only an estimate culture, telephone interview 24 August 2005.
on her part. Cross, C. 2004. Agricultural Tourism—ISAI (Inter-
2
The term ‘‘farm market’’ is somewhat problematic. national Sports Adventure Institute; http://
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ten to fifteen varieties of vegetables but sell thirty— Saigo. 2005. Environmental science: A global concern.
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velopment Board, Inc. (SMRCDB). 2004. Taking keting at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo,
the First Step: Farm and Ranch Alternative Enterprise MI 49008. E-mail: Ann.Veeck@wmich.edu. Her re-
and Agritourism Resource Evaluation Guide with tech- search interests include family consumption patterns
nical and financial assistance from the United States and food consumption patterns in China and the
Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources United States.