Published on Monday, February 2, 2009

Sustainable Farm Tourism Gains Popularity in US

Long a form of tourism in European countries, sustainable farm travel is gaining popularity in the U.S. and island nations, with more attention being paid to agricultural education. However, there are concerns about the potential impacts of increased tourist traffic at sustainable farms, which could easily ruin the clean simplicity that draws tourists there in the first place. Furthermore, the variety of sustainable farm tours available makes protecting this cherished lifestyle more difficult and complex.

The WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) WWOOF organization was begun in the UK in the early 1970s, and is perhaps the most successful model of sustainable farm tourism. WWOOF caters to those who desire a distinctly interactive, engaging travel experience that provides a connection to the land on organic farms and to the people who live and work there.

The story of WWOOF"s inception reveals what continues to drive sustainable farm tourism today. According to the WWOOF Web site, "a London secretary, Sue Coppard, recognised the need to provide access to the countryside for people like herself who did not otherwise have the means or the opportunity, and who were keen to support the organic movement." In 2009, modern urban life and the grime, overcrowding and lack of personal connection that come with it have led many to seek a purer, quieter getaway.

The Journal of Extension touches on "urbanized visitors who are disconnected from their food source," enticing them toward a more authentic, agricultural sort of travel. Even in daily life, residents of frenetic urban centers like New York City are making it a point to slow down, shopping at green markets that allow them to interact with farmers, and gain a better understanding of where their food is coming from. Travel, by way of sustainable farm stays, allows city dwellers to experience this slower, simpler life on a larger scale.

For example, at the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm in the rainforest of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, internships and apprenticeships allow guests to learn about agroecology, a new field that combines "productivity with resource conservation." But relaxing farm stays are also available for travelers seeking a Caribbean vacation that includes immersion into a living-working farm.

Sustainable farm travel is also suitable for families with small children, as Cookie magazine explains. Parents are increasingly concerned about what goes into their children"s food, and seek natural alternatives that have traveled fewer miles to reach the dinner table. To teach kids about food production and show them "how things should really taste," parents are planning vacations to working farms. "What other kind of getaway allows kids to experience the thrill of bottle-feeding a baby goat or pulling a perfectly imperfect carrot straight out of the ground?" Cookie asks.

More luxurious farm stays are also available. In Sweden, for instance, a vacation at Ängavallen farm Angavallen Farm offers guided tours of the bucolic, organic grounds, home-cooked meals made from farm-fresh ingredients, and shopping trips for "ecological and sustainable products."

The impact of visitors on sustainable farms has some people concerned, however. The Journal of Extension reports, "common sense would tell us outsiders might leave litter, congestion problems, and exotic species in their wake as well."

But perhaps we are not giving travelers enough credit. Those who desire a week or two on a sustainable working farm seek something different, after all. The farm way of life emphasizes care - coaxing a seeding into a full-grown vegetable, for example. Humility and respect are essential on the farm, as farmers must pay close attention to the land they work in cooperation with. It would seem that travelers who desire an agricultural immersion already have an appreciation for authenticity and integrity.

As this intriguing tourism sector moves forward, working farms, and the families, urbanites, and luxury travelers who visit them, must constantly be aware of their actions and impacts. Taking care not to overwhelm the organic way of life they wish to immerse themselves in will hopefully ensure that sustainable working farms remain sustainable.

Sarah Amandolare

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