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Agritourism takes step forward

Legislation allows farms to hold events, educate

  • Farmer John’s Plot, based in Dublin, teaches new farmers the business skills needed for sustainability. Courtesy photo

  • Farmer John's Plot, Dublin —Courtesy photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, March 28, 2016

Farmer John’s Plot’s business model does not rely on agritourism for revenues, but it’s something the nonprofit’s founder John Sandri teaches new farmers as an integral part of a farm’s sustainability. New Hampshire law is now catching up to that with legislation that includes agritourism in the definition of agriculture.

“It’s an important piece for many farms,” Sandri said of agritourism, noting most farms are subsidized in some way, either by holding events or by a landowner’s full-time, off-site job.

Both the House and the Senate have passed laws this session that make agritourism ancillary to agricultural pursuits. While leaving regulation, such as requiring a special exception, in the hands of local land use boards, the Senate bill goes so far as to say agritourism is allowed anywhere agriculture is permitted.

The bill defines agritourism as events and activities accessory to primary farm operations, “including, but not limited to, eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education about farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm.”

“I think it’s a good step forward,” said Jason Reimers, an attorney with BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, in Concord, whose firm works with a number of clients involved in agriculture. “They are often looking for ways to stay in business.”

But the definition of agritourism is vague in some ways. “There’s definitely going to be arguments about what that means. For example, does that mean weddings?” Reimers noted. “It’s not crystal clear.”

Farms are businesses

Farmer John’s mission is to help educate and support new farmers. Sandri said he was recently talking with Eliot Coleman, a Maine farmer and author, about why farms flop. “The number one reason farms fail is for lack of business skills,” Sandri said, adding that agritourism can be part of a good plan, but it doesn’t have to be. “It comes from good business practices.”

The majority of Farmer John’s revenue comes from produce sales through its CSA. The organization doesn’t own any land, and instead holds land leases at five sites and hires farmer to manage the sites. “We wouldn’t be able to exist if if our organization was paying taxes or mortgages on the land,” he said.

But in this area, he said, there’s a surplus of land available to be farmed and young people interested in farming. “We’re trying to bring those things together,” he said.

They’ve recently started a farm incubator program to help post-college young people get their start in the field. They’ve just hired one full-time farm site manager, bringing their number of employees up to four. They hope to be able to expand the program soon.

The new hires will get their education by doing and being involved in decisions, Sandri said. The organization treats farming as a business, growing what customers want and respecting the environment.