HAMILTON — Agritourism may not be a word you hear every day, but everything from your favorite farm stand to your annual pumpkin patch trip falls under its umbrella, and nowhere is agritourism as bustling as the Last Best Place.
Despite the success of this industry, until this summer, a Montanan interested in turning their farm into a field trip didn’t have a lot of resources to get started. For many, the idea was and is daunting.
Cue Professor Shannon Arnold.
“There are very little educational resources that exist specifically focused on Montana agritourism,” explained Dr. Arnold.
Together with fellow MSU professor Anton Bekkerman, these ag advocates applied for and received a grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture in 2018.
“Our goal with the grant was to develop this educational campaign for both prospective and emerging operators of specialty crops and agritourism businesses in Montana,” said Arnold.
A labor of love 3 years in the making came to fruition this May with a first-of-its kind website offering a step-by-step guide for busting into the agritourism industry.
Here, you’ll find advice from agritourism experts, videos and detailed podcasts so you can pop in the headphones and learn without missing a weed.
“For an operator that might be interested in starting an agritourism business, they could go to this podcast and they could listen to different perspectives of how different people started their agritourism business, where did they go for resources, what were some of their challenges, how did they overcome those,” said Arnold.
If you're curious about agritourism and what that looks like, there's nothing stopping you from hopping in a car right now and driving down to Tongue River Winery in the southeast corner of the state, Glenwood Farms near Glacier, or to the Bitterroot Valley where Laura Garber has mastered the art of agritourism.
“Anyway that we as farmers can connect with our community is really important,” Garber told MTN News. “Here at Homestead Organics, we're bringing to the table the opportunity for people to really have an authentic experience.”
Those experiences range from internships for students, farm tours for preschoolers, camps for those on the autism spectrum, CSA food shares, and community dinners.
For Garber, the idea of “tourism” isn’t limited to national parks and recreation. Sometimes, tourism is right in your backyard.
“We welcome people to come and experience what it smells like when the beets are blooming for seed, or to hear the noise a baby pig makes, or to hold a baby chick, so I think we're known for a place people can come and truly experience something real,” said Garber.
Through Montana’s new agritourism guide, Garber hopes her farm will be just one of many tourist hot spots.
“The website really can empower farmers to say, ‘Yeah, I can have people at my farm, maybe I'm gonna make money at it, maybe I'm just there to provide an experience or an opportunity, but either way, I'm positively affecting my community.’”