Early Wednesday morning Laura and Mari joined thirty-five farmers, tourism and farm support professionals boarding a tour bus for a 2-day exploration of agritourism sites in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The big lessons of the trip are still percolating to clarity but one thing is certain, we had fun and are grateful especially for the chance to connect with peers on this theme that preoccupies us.
We visited an apiary, alpaca farm, an organic artisanal cheese operation and three orchards (some of which had quite a complex of interwoven enterprises). The sites we visited were 1 to 2 hours from Montreal and all are larger scale than we ever want to be, some receiving 100 thousand visitors per year. Their regional and provincial tourism offices have a three-decade long track record of promoting agritourism and as we all know, this is all set in the context of a deep cultural appreciation for food.
At the end of the day it was fun to be on the receiving end of experiencing the great passion individuals, families and their teams –passion for agriculture and traditions amidst a complex and changing world. One orchardist noted “it used to be you didn’t have to worry about hail at night or in certain months of the year. Now it is known to hail at anytime”.
Passions also stirred as our bus bounced its way back to the Northeast Kingdom as colleagues chatted about what could be orchestrated at their own sites and about the tenuous game of agritourism where ideally one shares with the world our passion for farms and farming without selling our souls by crossing the fine line between respectful agritourism and a more exploitative or distracting version, agritainment.
Laura and Mari are excited to reflect more on all this and are grateful to Andrew and Penelope who kept the homefires burning, planting garlic and cared for the flocks and herds. And deep thanks to Vermont Fresh Network, VT Farms, UVM Extension and the Farm Based Education Network for organizing the trip and making it possible for us all to go.