West Virginia agritourism group forms to help farmers

west virginia farm
A dog walks with a stick on Riffle Farms, in Terra Alta, West Virginia. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Farms all over the country are using agritourism to add a revenue stream and diversify their income.

The West Virginia Agritourism Association was formed earlier this year to help producers in the state capitalize on the unique opportunities West Virginia farms have to offer.

“They really do have a lot of the ingredients that travelers are looking for when they talk about experiential travel, like going to a palace and really digging into the history of culture. Our farms are well-positioned to play into that,” said Doolarie Singh-Knights, associate professor and extension specialist in agribusiness economics and management at West Virginia University.

When people vacation in the state, they’re not coming to relax by the beach. West Virginia is famous for its outdoor recreation opportunities, Singh-Knights said. Adventure and recreation is listed first on the state tourism website and lists things like whitewater rafting, skiing, rock climbing, ATV and off-roading, biking, hiking and camping.

In fact, a program called Ascent West Virginia launched April 12 to entice outdoor enthusiasts who work remotely to move to West Virginia. The program, funded by Intuit chairman and West Virginia native Brad Smith, is offering $12,000 cash and free recreation activities for a year for those that move to West Virginia and live there for at least two years.

West Virginia farms

An agritourism experience could serve as a way to round out a person’s vacation in West Virginia, Singh-Knights said.

West Virginia farms tend to be small family farms. In fact, more than 95% of West Virginia farms are categorized as small family farms, meaning a gross cash farm income of less than $350,000. There’s only one other state — Tennessee — with that high of a percentage of small family farms.

All of those things bode well for agritourism, Singh-Knights said. In part because, small family farms tend to benefit more from agritourism opportunities. They tend not to be as engaged with the commodity markets and more in tune with directly connecting with consumers.

Liz Riffle, of Riffle Farms, hosts farm tours, cooking demos, tasting events, farm-to-table dinners and more on the bison farm she runs with her husband, Jimmie. Some of the guests that visit are from the region. They know Riffle Farms from the Morgantown and Bridgeport farmers markets.

But she also knows people come to the area to paddle the Cheat River, mountain bike and go hiking. She plans to host campers in the future and maybe open some hiking or biking trails of their own on the farm.

“I get that we’re out here,” she said, referencing the farm’s remote location on top of a mountain. “I want to make it worth your time if you visit.”

Producers like the Riffles are why Singh-Knights helped form the West Virginia Agritourism Association, “to bring interested operators together and see how we can help move the agritourism needle farther in West Virginia,” she said.

The group is still in its infancy, Singh-Knights said. They had an initial meeting this past winter with about 50 people in attendance. Now, there is a steering committee of about 15 people, including Riffle, doing the background work to get the group set up.

The next meeting is scheduled for the beginning of May. Those interested in joining should contact Singh-Knights via email at Dosingh-knights@mail.wvu.edu or by phone at 304-293-7606.

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