Can agritourism save the farm?

Multnomah County is considering an ordinance to allow agritourism in East County.

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Agritourism in its simplest form is any activity that “promotes farm products while also providing education, hands-on opportunities, entertainment, and recreation,” according to Melissa Fery, who works with the OSU Small Farms program.

The problem is East County prohibits farmers from diversifying their income in this way. Other counties are in the same boat.

In 2011, the Legislature approved SB960, which gave counties the ability to establish agritourism rules. But few have moved forward.

Washington County, for example, was in the process of developing an agritourism framework but halted all activity in July 2014. The county board later reviewed a study on the impacts of agritourism but as of February 2017 had yet to put a policy in place.

Multnomah County’s ordinance would allow existing farms to host farm-related activities such as a cooking class, crop instruction or farm operations.

The ordinance does not allow events like weddings or concerts. Only farms 10 acres or larger — or five acres or larger in the more urbanized MUA-20 zone — can take advantage of the new rules. Attendance is limited to 20 people per event for a single day event; 50 for multiple event permits.

Corbett resident Linden Burk supports the ordinance, with reservations. She says most farmers in her area want to host teaching events — like a cooking class utilizing a unique crop — or offer a farm-to-table dinner for restaurateurs who might buy produce.

But Burk wants to impose stricter limits than the ordinance proposes.

“We really feel the 50-person events should be limited to properties eight acres or more,” she says.

Area farms are located in close proximity to one another, and Burk said she was concerend too many events could occur at the same time.

Burk provided testimony during a June 29th meeting, along with that of fellow farmer Stephanie Nystrom. Both served on the Commuity Advisory Committee that discussed and developed the ordinance. Both asked the Board to increase the size limits for small farms.

The Board of Commissioners agreed and postponed ruling on the ordinance while an amendment is considered. Nevertheless the board will approve the ordinance given support expressed during the meeting. 

Agritourism can be a good way for farmers to diversify their income, Fery says.

“Agritourism is not for every farm or farmer; there is a lot to take into consideration,” she says. “But for some small farms, adding an agritourism enterprise is the difference between staying in business or not.”

In case you were wondering: Marijuana farms are prohibited from hosting agritourism events.