Lawmakers hear update on agrotourism

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Legislative Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on Tuesday, heard a presentation on “Agrotourism,” from the W.Va. Department of Agriculture’s Assistant Director of Business Development, Maggie Blankenship. 

“Agrotourism is strong in our state,” Blankenship began. “Some of our farms date back to 2008 to be established as agrotourism. Agrotourism has agriculture at its core. We want to preserve the streams, we want to preserve the lands we are given, and we are farmers at our core.”

According to Blankenship, Christmas tree farms, pumpkin patches, and wineries account for some of the most frequented agrotourism destinations in the state. 

“We have just over 308 agrotourism operations in the State of West Virginia at this point,” Blankenship said. “That number grows almost weekly.We have a lot of you-pick flower farms starting to pop up across the state. And this number does not include farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants, because those open and close faster than I can keep up with.”

Blankenship further noted that there are 102 fairs and festivals held annually in the state. The W.Va. Department of Agriculture’s website, Blankenship added, features an interactive map which shows the locations of all agrotourism businesses throughout West Virginia. 

“Agrotourism is a great way to get people who travel to West Virginia to stay longer,” Blankenship said. “We all know that the Department of Tourism does a great job at getting folks to West Virginia. […] Agrotourism is trying to piggyback off of their advertising dollars to get folks to stay here longer. We want people to see the beauty of our state in its natural appearance.

“We want to be able to keep our agriculture here,” Blankenship added. “We’re just over 23,000 farms in the state, and we want to keep that number where it’s at.”

At the conclusion of Blankenship’s presentation, a question was raised regarding minimum acreage for agrotourism businesses. 

“There’s currently not any real acreage parameters for agrotourism,” Blankenship said. “The rule reads that the definition of agriculture is – and I don’t know it by heart, so forgive me – it’s inviting people to the farm to educate and publicize.”

“Education is kind of what gets it,” Blankenship added. “As long as there’s some education – people coming to a local farm. There are parameters on acreage on, say, a farm tax exemption, and some of those other things. But for agrotourism, no parameters.”

The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development will meet again during next month’s Interim Legislative Session, scheduled for May 19 through 21. RealWV will provide updates from the committee as additional information becomes available. 

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