Regenerative Agritourism

David Rust, CEO and Founder of Sagra, explains the intersection of farm stays and regenerative agriculture.

By David Rust, founder and CEO of Sagra 

I have been fascinated with staying on farms ever since I was a small child. My dad was born and raised on a farm in Germany. Growing up, we would visit my cousins who ran an agriturismo in Umbria, Italy. I remember eating freshly made salami, the smell of hay in the fields, and the sounds of roosters in the morning. These experiences imprinted on me that the food on our plate comes through the often messy interaction between humans and the environment. 

Today, when global warming and access to healthy food are such hot-button issues, more and more people are feeling a similar pull back to the land and their food sources. Could we, as a society, better identify solutions if more of us visited farms and knew farmers? What if these stays on farms also put much-needed dollars back in farmers' pockets, helping them continue another farming season? How could we inspire the creation of new agritourism locations across the US? That is what I think about, day in and day out. If this resonates with you, I hope you follow that passion, whether that means opening up your own farm stay, visiting your neighborhood farm, or simply sharing this concept with your close friends and family.

Agritourism as an entry point to regenerative agriculture

In recent years, agritourism has gained traction as a powerful tool to foster a deeper connection between consumers and their food sources. Agritourism refers to inviting visitors to farms, ranches, and agricultural sites to experience firsthand the daily life of farmers and learn about agricultural practices. Alongside this, there has been a growing interest in regenerative agriculture as a sustainable approach to farming that seeks to restore and enhance the health of ecosystems. By engaging visitors through agritourism, people can witness regenerative agriculture's positive impact on the environment. They can see how regenerative farming practices, such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced chemical usage, promote healthier soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, visitors can learn about the essential role of regenerative agriculture in mitigating climate change, conserving water resources, and preserving biodiversity. In 2017 alone, agritourism in the US brought in $3.7 billion across 150,000 farms. 

Experiences agritourism can offer

We often see experiences on farms fall into three categories:

  1. Guided programming: Guided activities vary from interactive workshops on soil health to witnessing regenerative grazing practices from the farmer. I remember the first time I planted carrots from seed alongside a farmer. Seeing the care and attention that went into it has transformed my appreciation of carrots each time I purchase them at my local farmer's market.
  2. Self-guided programming: Farmers are only sometimes available to show guests around the farm. For this reason, self-guided experiences can offer a unique, complementary way of experiencing the land and on-site operations. Many farms offer beautiful ways to explore the farm independently, from trail maps to audio guides.
  3. Off-site programming: Farms are part of an intricate food system. By visiting the butcher who sells the farm's meat, then dining at the restaurant that serves the farm's product, you can begin to peel back the curtain on our food system and see how a series of personal relationships ultimately lead food from a farm to your plate. 

New agritourism locations are needed across the US

Vacationing on farms is common in places like Italy, South Africa, Japan, and Israel. In fact, in countries like Italy, the government has actively provided funding and training to help farmers maintain their family farms and prevent them from becoming the next parking lot. There are no signs that the US government will provide similar support to farmers, so how might we tackle this from the ground up? This question is what inspired us to start Sagra

Sagra was born out of speaking with hundreds of farmers across the United States and learning about what it would take to enable guests to visit these farms. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that farmers need more time, money, or expertise to host guests. Still, the income they could generate from renting out just one room on their farm could bring in more money than they make from their entire farm. What was needed was a support system for farmers so that they could enable guests to visit their farms without doing all of the heavy lifting themselves. 

At Sagra, we support farms by creating custom printed and digital content to educate guests on the farm, manage the online listings for guests to make reservations, communicate with guests, set the pricing, handle the accounting, and coordinate all of the other administrative pieces that often prevent farmers from doing this on their own. Think of us as the operator that supports the farmers. 

We can't do this alone at Sagra. Creating a network of agritourism locations across the US requires banks who lend to farmers, investors who invest in farms, marketers who help promote the concept, guests who will pay for stays, and more. 

Potential impact of agritourism 

Agritourism experiences can leave a lasting impression on visitors, prompting them to make more informed and sustainable food choices. Witnessing the benefits of regenerative agriculture encourages visitors to support local farmers and seek out sustainably produced foods in their daily lives. This shift in consumer behavior can create a ripple effect, leading to increased demand for regeneratively grown products and, consequently, the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices. We can sow the seeds of change through agritourism, cultivating a world where sustainable practices and conscious consumer choices flourish.