At the Amazing Grace Crop Maze in Green Cove Springs, children enjoy making their way through paths cut into a sorghum field. This is an example of how Florida agritourism adds excitement to this seasonal destination. / Contributed
Editor’s note: This is the first half of Deborah Hartz-Seeley’s “Agritourism Brings Fun, and More Business, to the Farm.” Part 2 will run Monday, Oct. 10.
If you’re looking for some simple fun in the Sunshine State, you might consider a tour of a dairy farm to learn how milk gets from cow to bottle. Or try to find your way through a maze cut into a field.
Little ones, as well as adults, can take a ride in a cart or tram, pulled by a tractor, with a stop to feed the cows. Or how about picking your own strawberries, peppers and sunflowers on a balmy day?
This is agritourism (aka “agritainment”), and it’s becoming a whole new cash crop for Florida’s small farmers. Combining tourism with agriculture, agritourism encourages farmers to not only supply food but also education and entertainment.
“’Agritourism’ has an evolving definition that includes all types of things you can do on a farm,” said Lisa Ard, president of the Florida Agritourism Association. “It’s creating an experience, an activity that gets your kids into the country. It’s something wholesome and healthy. It’s about having fun on a farm.”
Florida Agritourism is Fun, but also Beneficial
It’s also about boosting the economy of our state and the bottom line of small farms, which often are struggling to pay taxes and fend off developers.
In 2015, over 105 million visitors came to Florida, with state tourism creating an economic impact of $89 billion while employing almost 1.2 million people, according to research done by VisitFlorida.com.
On the agriculture side, Adam Putnam, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, tells us that there are more than 47,000 farms in Florida, producing 300 different commodities.
These farms generate more than $120 billion in annual economic impact and support over 2 million jobs for Floridians.
Florida Agritourism is a Growing Industry
It’s clear that a lot of opportunity exists out there for agritourism. And it’s mainly the younger generation of farmers that are tapping into the trend.
Consider Kelly and Justin Mosley, who in 2012 attended a conference that offered a workshop on agritourism. “Driving home on I-10, I looked at my husband and said ‘I think we could do that.’ And he did too,” says Kelly, who is the sixth generation of her family on the farm.
They told her father about their ideas. And Kelly remembers he responded with, “Do y’all think that people are going to pay to come to a farm?” And of course, Kelly and Justin replied, “Yeah, they will. “
That was the beginning of the Amazing Grace Crop Maze, in Green Cove Springs, that opened in 2013. It’s a seasonal agritourism attraction that runs for a month in the fall. Then in May, the farm reopens to the public with U-pick sunflowers.
“This is a place to enjoy a simpler time, a place that stays with you even after you leave, because you find corn in your house,” says Kelly.
That’s because the kids may have filled their pockets with corn kernels while rolling around in the corn crib. Or perhaps they enjoyed the rubber-ducky races or a ride behind a tractor on the Cow Train.
Kelly says that between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the number of visitors increased by 47 percent.
Tourists, Floridians enjoy the fun
For the tourists, it’s not about the numbers but about having fun. Abbe Polsyn of Boca Raton took her 4-year-old daughter to Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market in western Boynton Beach. It covers 80 acres, with seven set aside so you can harvest produce yourself.
“My daughter loved the strawberry-picking,” said Polsyn. “It was thrilling to her to find the good ones, pick the berries herself and put them in the bucket.”
And it’s moms with kids who make up the bulk of agritourists, according to the Florida Agritourism Association’s Ard. That’s followed by grandparents looking to get the kids away from the video and television screens and into the fresh air.
IF YOU GO
To find places that offer agritourism in Florida, visit:
Agritourism World: http://www.agritourismworld.com/directory/usa-by-state/florida
Florida Agritourism Association: http://visitor.visitfloridafarms.com
Official Travel Planning Website for the State of Florida: http://visitor.visitfloridafarms.com
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a longtime Florida journalist covering the local food and gardening scene. With a master’s degree in agricultural journalism, she served as food editor for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel for over 20 years. Today, she is a certified “master gardener.”