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Putnam farmers venture into agritourism; West Virginia Farms think beyond the corn maze
Corn mazes and pumpkin patches provide additional revenue and interest on farms across West Virginia when harvest time has long past.
But other agritourism opportunities exist, as a group of West Virginia producers found out during a four-month class that culminated in a two-day bus tour to Virginia and North Carolina this spring.
As the ending of this year's harvest season is getting near, famous destinations, including the Gritt's Fun Farm have cleared out their pumpkin patches and corn mazes.
But the face of agritourism in West Virginia is ever- growing that the economic impact study led by the West Virginia University Extension Service is said to be the underway- to better understand the number and key practices of such operations.
"The thing with agritourism is that corn mazes and pumpkin patches aren't the only way you can get into it," stated Gritt's General Manager Bradley Gritt viaSkift. He also added, "There are opportunities for people to do it in a ton of different ways."
Agritourism, which is a business venture on a working farm, gives tourists an original experience while providing extra income for the Putham farmers.
Gritt's made its debut in agritourism in the succeeding years from 2006 and 2007. The owner Bob Gritt has the idea of drawing customers in to buy mums and pick their own pumpkins.
And after 8 years, the fun farm has extended with two corn mazes, a playground area, a hayride, pedal carts, and apple cannons for the thousands of guests during the month of October.
"Every year, we try to add something for people where they can have more fun with their family; that's what it's all about," Gritt claimed.
According to Washinton Times, although the owner suspects the number of tourists visiting the place exceeds more than 30,000 visitors in 2014, Gritt's Farm is the exception.
In Putnam County, of the nearly 550 farms, only 78, or about 14 percent, garners more than $10,000 in sales every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2012 census. Many of them own small farms too while working full-time jobs.
Other agritourism opportunities are also present as a group of West Virginia producers found out during a four-month class that concluded in a two-day bus tour to Virginia and North Carolina this spring, as reported by Statesman Journal.
The trip existed in part by a grant through West Virginia University. It was the finale of classes that were available at WVU's campus in Morgantown, the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in Beaver and an online course.
"We covered everything about agritourism (in the classes)," Cindy Martel said, marketing specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. She continued by stating, "They did a lot before they ever got on a bus. It became a classroom on wheels."
Moreover, other partners were also available in the training, including the West Virginia Division of Tourism, the WVU College of Agriculture, independent farmers and agritourism experts outside the state. By that, tour participants become interested in implementing agritourism on their own farms.
"Farms can provide an experience that travelers are looking for," Martel mentioned. She added, "It's ripe for tourism. People want to learn about where their food comes from."
Additional means of revenue for producers, such as community-supported agriculture shares and farmers markets, have helped perpetuate the role of farmers as not only growers but also educators, she also said.
But like any other aspects of tourism, agritourism can also encounter challenges. While other businesses often seek to stand out from competitors, experts claim that agritourism thrives on clustering area attractions together in efforts to bring in customers.
On Gritt's Farm, however, agritourism is part of its legacy. "It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time," Gritt claimed. "I don't ever see myself stopping it."
For now, as agritourism evolves, Martel emphasizes that today's consumers don't solely focus on experience, but an immersion where memories are created.
She also mentioned that consumers are really trying to capitalize on that by looking at agritourism as a product, rather than saying "We'll just throw in a corn".
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