Agri-tourism Movement in BC

The “agri-tourism movement” is growing. In British Columbia, the BC AgriTourism Alliance (BCATA) incorporated in 2002 and is in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of BC agri-tourism operations [see www.agri-tourismbc.com].

by Maggie Paquet

Down on the farm these days, visiting schoolchildren are wonder-struck when they realize the artfully designed (and marketed) little containers of yoghurt they pack in their lunches actually come from a big old Holstein- Fresian, with some exotically named bacteria mixed in. “Yuck!,” say some of them, hearing the words acidophilus and lactobacillus. “Cool,” say others. “How many cows does it take to make one of those artificially sweetened, coloured, and flavoured six-packs of yoghurt (complete with corporate logo)?” 

How many cows, indeed. And what does the average consumer know about cows, or any livestock? As it turns out, not much. With the conversion of more and more agricultural land into subdivisions, or bought up by multinationals and turned into factory farms, fewer and fewer people, especially kids, have the opportunity to connect with the land and animals that provide them with sustenance. The family farm has been besieged by the need to exchange a way of life for a bank account that seems perpetually in the red. So farmers do what they must in order to survive financially. 

Financial survival doesn’t necessarily translate to sustainability—environmental or social. And farmers know that. Ghostly, once-thriving farm towns are scattered all over North America. Not wanting to be saddled with the crippling debt and stress of their parents, successive generations have moved away and forgotten the farming life. Their children never knew it. If they inherit the family farm, they either sell it off to the highest bidder (usually a corporation) or parcel it out for suburban development. Infrequently, they may try to farm it for a while, but the bank usually gets it in the end. 

As discussed elsewhere in this issue, farmers are fighting back. They’re bringing some hope for sustainability back to farming through agri-tourism—a movement that not only benefits farms and rural communities, but has the potential to so educate the urban public that demand for healthful, local production can only increase. 

The “agri-tourism movement” is growing. In British Columbia, the BC AgriTourism Alliance (BCATA) incorporated in 2002 and is in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of BC agri-tourism operations [see www.agri-tourismbc.com]. BCATA defines agri-tourism as: …combin[ing] agricultural or rural settings and products within a tourism experience…providing visitors with…agriculturally based experiences ranging from fruit and vegetable-stand shopping…to winery, orchard, garden, and alpaca tours, and from farm-based bed-andbreakfast [or other] accommodation to participation in harvest festivals, farmers’ markets, and cattle drives. 

With tourism and community economic development agencies as partners, BCATA stresses the need for farm diversification as the key to rural sustainability in BC. BCATA thinks agri-tourism, which includes community- based value-added processing, will give rural communities more power to shape their own future. In our mountainous province, only about 3 percent of our landbase is suitable for farming. We can’t afford to waste it by turning it into subdivisions, nor can we let the corporate agenda take it over. Agri-tourism operations are springing up all over; look for, and support, the ones in your neck of the woods. You’ll be glad you did.

***

[From WS September/October 2003]

5 Issues/yr — $25 print; $15 digital