Ag tourism—selling a way of life

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published January 1, 1994  | January 1994 issue

From simple roadside stands to lodging, museums and gift shops, the growth of rural tourism in Wisconsin has led the state to form the nation's first agricultural tourism association.

Formed last spring, the association held its first annual conference in November to share knowledge and compile a directory of ag-related tourist attractions. Tourism is one of the top three industries in Wisconsin, and ag tourism is growing strong all over the state, including the northwest counties in the Ninth District, according to Helen Fauerbach of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Many of the attractions, which also include bed and breakfasts, hay and sleigh rides, pick-your-own produce, and exotic animals, are run by farmers. "Small farms must diversify to survive," says Donna Justin, president of the association, which has over 100 members. As in many states with a significant agricultural industry, diversification means not only raising a variety of crops and animals but also attracting tourists.

These businesses are tapping into the trend that people will pay to enjoy a slice of rural life: from spending the night on a farm to touring a cranberry museum or farm operation, from picking their own berries in the field to just watching cows. "People are interested in where their food comes from," says Justin, herself a dairy farmer with a bed and breakfast and horse trails near Sparta.

Dairy farmers Charlene and Richard Berg of Osceola also operate a bed and breakfast in their home. Among the activities for guests at Pleasant Lake Inn are visiting the dairy barn and feeding the young calves. Most of their clientele is from the Twin Cities, about an hour's drive away. "A lot of them grew up on a farm or are just interested in farm life, the novelty of it," Charlene Berg says.

Nettie Pignatello