Agritourism is booming in Virginia, Vincent Magnini, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, found in a study he co-authored that was released recently.

While agritourism is growing nationwide, Magnini believes it is growing especially fast in Virginia. “About one-third of the venues in Virginia have come online in just the past few years,” he says. “We have all the natural assets, including mountains and beaches and really good highway systems that make it easy to get to these venues. Many venues can be reached in 30 minutes from major metro areas.”

Agritourism includes activities that allow members of the public to visit farms or ranches for recreation, entertainment, or education.

The study — prepared by Magnini, Martha Walker of the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Tech, and Esra Calvert of the Virginia Tourism Corporation — found a substantial impact on Virginia’s economy from agritourism. Total economic activity stimulated by the sector was about $2.2 billion in 2015.

Though Northern and Central Virginia had the highest concentration of venues, every region in the state has a number of agritourism venues, the study found.

Virginia’s diverse agritourism offerings

Across the state, the study identified about 1,400 agritourism establishments, which averaged more than 5,300 visitors per year per venue. The economic activity generated by this visitation supports approximately 22,151 full-time equivalent jobs around the commonwealth.

“I was surprised by the diversity of offerings in Virginia,” says Magnini. “The traditional view of agritourism is ‘you pick ‘em’ places for berries and vegetables, but there’s so much more than that. About a third of the venues host weddings, reunions, and other events. There are wineries and breweries. And Virginia is one of the top Christmas tree producers in the country.”

The study was funded by the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Augusta, Halifax, Loudoun, and Rockingham counties.

“We’re hoping it will make everyone realize just how significant agritourism is in Virginia from an economic perspective,” Magnini says. “Comparatively speaking, agritourism doesn’t take a lot of public money but brings in a lot of money and creates a lot of jobs.”

Benefits beyond the scope of economic models

The study notes that agritourism also provides many benefits that can’t be quantified by economic modeling, such as improving access to fresh, healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafoods, and providing educational opportunities about a range of topics, including farming and food production and environmental issues.

The impetus for the study originated a couple of years ago, Magnini said, when some key stakeholders around the state realized that they didn’t have up-to-date numbers on agritourism. To conduct the study, he and his team expanded and refined a list of farm businesses developed by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Agency to which a survey was sent.

Another survey, of 1,203 visitors to Virginia agritourism venues, was conducted. Data from these surveys, along with a commercially available economic multiplier data set known as IMPLAN, were used to model the statewide economic impact and other information about the venues.

–Dan Radmacher
–Photo by Shelby Lum