Organic agritourism in Australia

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      Agritourism is well established in Australia. Annually (pre-Covid) $11 billion AUD was spent by visitors to farms in Australia, by 7.4 million domestic and international visitors. This includes farm-based wineries and breweries.

      Agritourism is defined as: “A tourism-related experience or product that connects agricultural products, people or places with visitors on a farm or rural land”. National and regional governments support agritourism for several reasons connected with boosting rural economic development. Farm diversification reduces the impact on farm incomes of drought and low prices. The needs of visitors stimulate the improvement of rural infrastructure, transport, and communications. Rural employment increases, providing skilled job opportunities to reduce the flow of young people to the cities. Urban people have the opportunity to understand how food is produced, which is particularly important for increasing awareness of organic methods.

      Governments can facilitate the development of agritourism by policies, marketing, accreditation to ensure good standards, and reform of land use and food safety regulations. Funding can be provided to assist new agritourism ventures.

      More than 20 Australian organic farms offer some kind of tourist experience: accommodation, farm shops, farm tours, wedding and conference facilities, restaurants, or organic and permaculture education.

      Those that offer accommodation do so in a small way. Often there is just one or two cottages available, generally with self-catering facilities. At least one farm just has a room or two in the family home, with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Breakfast is often included, using organic ingredients. A few farms provide full meals as an option. Sometimes camping is permitted.

      Guests are usually able to take part in feeding animals and collecting eggs, an exciting activity for urban people. The farms keep a large range of animals, much more than a normal farm, to enhance the experience, especially for children: chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, sheep, alpacas, goats. The vegetable garden and orchard are commonly open for guests to select their own food to prepare. One farm allows guests to catch marron (a freshwater native crayfish) in dams.

      Proximity to national parks or beaches is strongly promoted by these farms. Many have some remnant bushland on the farm where guests can see wildlife and wildflowers. In some cases, there are guided bushwalks and bird-watching tours on offer, usually for an extra cost, or bicycles for hire or loan to see the surrounding area. On some farms, guests can learn about wine or cheese making. Of course, the promotion of organic farming to guests is normally part of the experience.

      The farm size ranges from a few hectares to several thousand. Being close to major towns or cities is not seen as necessary to those that provide accommodation, as some visitors appreciate isolation.

      Health and relaxation services are often provided – yoga, meditation, massage, food preparation classes. Swimming pools, canoeing, tennis courts, games rooms and sometimes children’s playgrounds are provided. Dogs are rarely allowed because of the risk to farm animals and wildlife, but there are exceptions.

      Some farms do not offer accommodation. They have regular open days for farm tours, and a farm shop and often a restaurant or wine bar. Some provide facilities for weddings and other parties, and conferences or live music. On-farm educational sessions in organic farming, permaculture, regenerative farming, and sustainable building design are offered. These farms are generally located not too far from cities, or major holiday regions, where people can go for day trips.

      Another option for visitors is to work on an organic farm. This system is organised by Willing Workers on Organic Farms, a national body. Similar organisations exist in many other countries. WWOOF provides a listing of organic farm hosts to people who pay a membership fee. These people then contact the farm and make mutually suitable arrangements to work on the farm. No money is exchanged – the workers do not get paid but food and accommodation are provided free. They are generally expected to work an average of 4 hours per day, with the farmer. The length of stay varies from a few days to a few months. It is an excellent learning experience, especially for those who would like to set up their own organic farm.

      Agritourism is a good way for organic growers to increase their income through farm visits, educate their customers and potential customers, and boost the overall image and understanding of organics, to the benefit of all involved in the industry and the environment.
      Alan Broughton.

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