UC Davis agritourism officials and local farmers met Thursday before state Assembly members to discuss opportunities and challenges of becoming an agritourism destination as a means of diversifying a farm’s potential income.
The hearing — “Agritourism in California: Opportunities and Challenges of Becoming a Destination” — was held by the Assembly Select Committee on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture and took place at the UC Davis School of Law.
Assembly members Mariko Yamada, representing most of Yolo and Solano counties; Brian Dahle, of the Shasta Cascade and northern Sierra Nevada regions; and Susan Eggman, representing western San Joaquin County; presided over the meeting.
Among those who spoke was UCD Cooperative Extension specialist Shermain Hardesty.
Hardesty mentioned several benefits of agritourism, including reducing a farm’s risk by allowing a farmer to shift over to a product in another channel — potentially generating cash flow after the harvest period. She also discussed the creation of relationships between urban residents and farmers; agritourism builds an understanding of what farming is about and a better tolerance as to what happens in agriculture.
Agritourism also has educational benefits.
“Several farms offer tours for elementary kids who can learn where their food is coming from and how it’s produced … and expose students to new career opportunities,” she said, referring to students who may go into careers involving plant breeding, veterinary sciences, civil engineering and agriculture.
Also in attendance Thursday were farmers discussing ways to streamline ordinances to allow farms to begin new business ventures but with less time-consuming paperwork and permits.
Third-generation farmer Chris Turkovich of Turkovich Family Wines in Winters discussed his difficulty with regulations encountered in the building of a new winery and multi-use facility, which is nearing completion on his farm. Turkovich said the construction of one building required 34 months of sifting through and waiting on responses to permits from more than 20 different city, county and state agencies ranging from power to waste management to fire.
“The cost in time is more than the actual fees themselves,” Turkovich said. “For younger, newer, smaller farmers, it’s a burden.”
Michelle Stephens, the farmbudsman for Yolo and Solano counties, whose job is to help farmers and ranchers through the permitting processes, suggested the widening of the definition of agritourism allowing for more business opportunities, improving roads and infrastructure for routes to tourist destinations, and adding more jobs to oversee agritourism in the area.
“Farming is a different environment than a store on Main Street,” Stephens said. “Communicating this concept allows local governments and farmers to achieve compliance different from an urban business.”
More information regarding types of agritourism available in the state can be found at calagtour.org.
— Reach Jason McAlister at [email protected]