Fifth Annual Open Farm Week Kicks Off August 9th
Today is the start of the fifth annual Vermont Open Farm Week. Farms around the state will welcome visitors over the course of the week to more than 70 events. The type of events range from dinners in the field to workshops on cheesemaking to a labyrinth with flower picking at Earthwise farm in Bethel and llama trail walks at Agape Hill Farm in Hardwick. Anyone interested in learning more about the new Sterling College initiatives profiled in our earlier article can visit their campus and farm tour on August 10th. The options should suite almost any interest and the Vermont food tourism website DigInVT.com offers the full listing of OFW events, along with lists curated by interest and region at their blog.
Open Farm Week is organized by members of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network including City Market, DigInVT.com, Shelburne Farms and Farm‐Based Education, NOFA‐VT, University of Vermont Extension, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Fresh Network, and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. City Market / Onion River Coop is the premiere sponsor and Front Porch Forum is the media sponsor.
The collaborative OFW project began five years ago as an offshoot of the agritourism team from the Farm to Plate program. The Vermont Fresh Network had started a process of updating its DigInVT.com platform, which could serve as a virtual home for the initiative, helping people find events and map their way to unfamiliar farms. The site had been designed to provide a ready made marketing platform for big projects that took participants to all corners of the state. The team also included organizations such as UVM Extension and Shelburne Farms that had experience providing technical assistance to farmers. That meant it could become a fairly low risk way for farmers to invite visitors onto their property - with one-on-one assistance, written resources, webinars, and the boost of marketing provided by OFW organizers to help them dip their toes in the water. It seemed like a perfect confluence of tools and skill sets.
Tourism and the Farm Economy
It’s hard to know definitively how much tourism contributes to the Vermont farm economy, or how much farms contribute to the tourism economy. Certainly our agrarian landscape is a major part of many advertising campaigns attracting visitors to the state, giving farms at least an indirect role in much of the $2.8 billion industry. Agritourism also includes a lot of in-state travelers — think of going to a harvest festival at a nearby farm or maybe a trip to the Tunbridge World’s Fair to see the ox pull and visit the fancy poultry displays. There’s a lot of gray area, too. For example, consider the local food aspects of the Vermont culinary scene — an out-of-state visitor using a platform like DigInVT.com to find top chefs who partner with local farmers would be a tourist, while Vermonters who regularly eat at the same restaurants might not.
One thing that seems likely is that agritourism is a growing part of the Vermont farming landscape, as farmers continue to diversify and find new ways to take advantage of our state’s proximity to major metropolitan areas combined with locals’ appreciation for getting out to explore the working landscape.
So, do farmers participating in Open Farm Week who have not yet taken the plunge into year round agritourism do so? It’s a mix. Most do return for another year of Open Farm Week, and about a fifth report they feel more positive about having visitors on their farm following the experience. But organizers point out that learning that tourism isn’t for you through this event (and before making a big investment) is also pretty important. The idea is to have a tool for making that assessment, not to push everyone down the agritourism road. Regardless of their future relationship with tourism, farms who use OFW to try out hosting events can attract new customers and deepen connections with existing customers, which in turn supports their core business for the rest of the year.
The organizers behind OFW have spent a lot of time tweaking the format to have the greatest positive impact on participating farms and their visitors. Adjustments have included requiring that participants host an event of some type different from their normal farm business (too many vague “open farm” invitations led to confusion for visitors and farmers alike in the early years), increasing the technical assistance offerings for farms interested in help with planning, and adjusting the timing (this is the first year that the week encompasses the Vermont Cheese Festival weekend). A survey conducted by DigInVT in 2018 suggests that OFW is a popular type of introduction to agritourism, as “statewide coordinated promotions” of either events or trails are the most common activity among farms interested in this sector.
Find an Event Near You
Open Farm Week is a celebration of Vermont farms offering visitors a backstage pass to learn more about local food origins, authentic agritourism experiences, and the chance to build relationships with local farmers. Activities vary and include chances to milk cows and goats, harvest vegetables, learn to make cheese, go on behind- the-scenes farm tours, enjoy an on-farm dinners with live music, and more! Each Open Farm Week event is created by a farmer and focused on highlighting the unique character of the host farm.
Many events are free, some require pre-registration. Not all farms are open every day, so be sure to visit DigInVT.com to explore the diverse event schedule and plan a visit. Everyone is invited to join the Open Farm Week conversation on social media using the hashtag #VTOpenFarm.