It is incredibly important to learn where our food comes from, and a great way to learn about local farms is through agritourism.

Agritourism is a tool that diversifies farms to include educational and recreational activities in addition to normal production. Some examples of agritourism include “u-pick” operations where customers can select the farm product and harvest it themselves or with assistance. A common example this time of year is a choose and cut Christmas tree farm.

Some farms provide restaurants, bakeries, special events and meals, farm stays or farm stores, all of which are opportunities to learn about a working farm in a casual way. Other examples include on-farm activities, demonstrations or educational tours such as corn mazes, petting zoos, cheese production classes and more.

Visiting a local farm for agritourism can give people of all ages a unique opportunity to connect to rural lifestyles, cultural history and to explore parts of our food supply chain that people are oftentimes not familiar with, especially those from urban areas.

There are several agritourism businesses in Western North Carolina to visit, and many can be found in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project Local Food Guide at Appalachiangrown.org or by contacting your local Extension Office.

If you are a farmer and are interested in diversifying your farm business through agritourism, there are several tools available, including a four-part agritourism workshop series offered virtually from 1-2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in January. This workshop is a collaboration across many counties, including Jackson and Swain.

Another great opportunity upcoming in 2021 and offered from Southwestern Community College Small Business Center is Appalachian Farm School, which is an eight-week long program on Monday evenings from 6-9 p.m.

More information on these events and many other horticultural needs can be found by contacting the Jackson County Extension Office at 586-4009 or Jackson.ces.ncsu.edu or the Swain County Extension Office at 488-3848 or Swain.ces.ncsu.edu.

Katie Ashley is the NCSU horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties. She can be reached directly at Katie_Ashley@ncsu.edu.