Updated: Mar 25, 2022
MANY INDIVIDUALS I’VE TALKED WITH have kicked around a term that describes a movement that has swept through northern Michigan. The word is agritourism. The word is used in our everyday conversations, and frankly, it represents a sizable amount of the economic lifeblood that flows through the region.
It seemed to further its relevance during the pandemic when social distancing was front and center and rural outdoor experiences played prominently in our lifestyle adjustments.
Agritourism recognizes the importance of combining agriculture and tourism in our region’s economic well-being. I occasionally see the word containing a hyphen which has me wondering if Merriam-Webster might not be helpful in settling that irregularity.
A plethora of definitions can be found during a web search. This strikes me as humorous. Leave it to academia offering definitions that are very complex. I’m sticking with a short and concise definition for agritourism – an agricultural-based business that caters to tourist dollars. It simply hits the nail on the head.
One example of agritourism in NW Michigan is represented in the growth of the wine industry in our region, especially in Leelanau County and the Old Mission Peninsula. Rural acreage that once featured cherry trees has now increasingly been replaced by trellised grapes. The romance found in producing and processing grapes has created a solid collection of vineyards in the region. Most wineries are now open year-round engaged in commerce in pleasant four-season rural settings. It seems to work nicely.
The tasting rooms are the public interface with the venues. Wineries offer flights (small samples) featuring their fermented grapes. Knowledgeable staff, conversant in cultivation and harvesting of grapes, greet the daily guests. Joining the wine flights are charcuterie boards, artisan cheeses, finger foods, and desserts. These “small bites” complement the many wines each winery features. The entire presentation helps the businesses sell bottles and cases of their finest fermentations to eager and appreciative tourists.
Agritourism is further expressed as a local “farm-to-bottle” movement which is fitting for many of our region’s specialties which include the wineries and have expanded to breweries (hops, malt), cideries (apples + berries), and distilleries (ryes, grains, and potatoes).
A broader sweep of “farm-to-table” encompasses the expansion in rural specialty farming. Next to California, Michigan is a leader in agricultural crop diversity and this dominant movement expresses itself throughout the region in fruits, vegetables, and protein.
Farmers' markets, roadside stands, and culinary cuisine support this diversity of offerings to the delight of tourists and locals alike. Local content runs the gamut from flowers, honey, smoked fish, to grass-fed beef and organic micro-greens. Mushrooms (fungi) for the woodland foragers is a spring-time delight and small specialty cultivation is popping up in the region. These are but a small sampling of the many offerings.
If you take a tour of our four counties that make up the corridor along the M-22 highway and use a simple definition of agritourism it becomes apparent that the forces behind this movement are deeply rooted and abundant.
How fortunate we are to have these entrepreneurs tending to their crafts.