AGRITOURISM: How Oklahoma Farmers Are Helping To Build Eco-Awareness

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Although for most people, tourism evokes the usual images it always has, there is much more to traveling now than ever before.  Tourism’s nuances have evolved beyond vacationers seeking sun, sand and sea – with good food and drink mixed in. Vacationers want something more.  It’s why sectors like Agritourism is enjoying such impressive growth.

Traditionally, farms nestled in the heart of the countryside would have seemed off-limits, but with more farmers now offering a broad range of recreational activities, farms and ranches are now becoming a favorite destination.

A 2010 survey revealed that 92% of North Carolina farmers were actively participating in the agritourism industry at that time.  Of that number, 78% stated that agritourism had become an important part of their farm’s operations, with further evidence reveling a significant revenue value available from it. In 2012, the number of farms, ranches and other venues in Oklahoma offering activities in the sector was believed to be about 500.

Benefits of Agritourism

Agritourism may be a practical solution to farmers trying to survive difficult economic situations, but its essence is providing recreation through agricultural activities.  It involves a diverse range of choices, including fruit and vegetable picking, wine and cheese making, horse-riding, camping, hiking and handicrafts.

As a result, it’s seen as an excellent option for families, with kids experiencing life outdoors, petting animals and even taking crop walks through fields of corn, and adults getting away from the cities and surrounding themselves with nature. It is also seen as a practical way to preserve ecosystems and an environment that is increasingly being placed under pressure from expanding urban areas. As long as these farms survive, the land is protected.

But really, what makes Agritourism so different is that it offers schools educational field trip options that can engage young children more than museums and galleries ever can. It’s hard to believe, but the younger generation is often unaware where milk comes from, or how that luscious, juicy apple ended up on their breakfast table.

Education’s Role

Establishing a more sustainable environment is a major challenge, but education is already recognized as a key part in achieving that. Throughout the US, school children are being educated about the importance of preserving the rural heritage by introducing them to gardening and food cultivation.

A growing number of schools have started school gardens, and provided students from elementary to high school age with instruction on planting, growing and harvesting vegetables. The vegetables are then used in the school cafeteria, increasing the students’ knowledge of how to eat healthily.

Oklahoma-based non-profit Earth Rebirth is leading the revolution by establishing and helping to maintain gardens in schools throughout to the city of Norman.  Its aim is to establish a garden in every public school in the city, and is already playing a key role in education initiatives where Earth Rebirth volunteers spend time with kids afterschool to tend to the plots and harvest crops.

In 2014, Life Lab conducted a survey and discovere that all schools with active gardens agreed that students benefited greatly, with 29.6% saying students improved academically and 57.6% saying attitudes about school improved.

What’s On Offer In Oklahoma

In 2004, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry, along with Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, looked into the possibility of introducing agritourism to Oklahoma. The result was the birth of Oklahoma Agritourism, whose core brief was to connect farmers and ranchers across the state with local, national and international tourists interested in experiencing more earthy activities in a region dominated by a variety of agricultural sectors.

Since then, Oklahoma has seen a significant growth in ecotourism and agritourism activities in 6 regions across the state. In fact, everything from birding to fruit-picking and ranching to teachable moments, whether young kids learn about animal care and production techniques, are available to choose from.

Here are just 3 of the leading destinations that are a must-visit for any agritourist planning to visit Oklahoma:

  1. Orr Family Farm – Located just 10 miles northwest of Norman, Orr Family Farm offers a little something for every age group. The 50-acre farm is essentially a city farm, sited just off South Western Avenue, Oklahoma City, and caters to all types of groups from families to groups of school children. There are over 50 activities to choose from, including paintballing, cannon blasters, corn mazes, fishing and hay riding. It also caters to all sorts of events, from birthday celebrations to weddings to educational field trips.
  2. Island Guest Ranch – Situated near Ames, on what used to be an island in Cimarron River, Island Guest Ranch is one of the oldest ranches in Oklahoma. The ranch has a terrain that encompasses an abundant wildlife presence. So, better bring your binoculars. Visitors can explore the local heritage and culture, with visits to rodeos, museums and even country dancing arranged.  Other than that, island guest ranch has a nice soothing environment for fishing, hunting, hiking, and horseback riding.
  3. A to Z Guest Ranch – Flowing creeks, lush pine forests and an abundance of wildlife are some of the mesmerizing aspects of A to Z Guest Ranch in the beautiful Kiamichi Mountains near Smithville, in southeast Oklahoma. Visitors can tour the more than 150 miles of trails on foot, on horseback, or by ATV. The ranch also hosts picnics and family events – around campfires if they prefer – and offers activities like fishing, hiking, n-site camping and wildlife watching.

 

For more on what Oklahoma can offer the tourist interested in experiencing the country life, check out:

Oklahoma Agritourism– http://oklahomaagritourism.com

Agritourism World – http://www.agritourismworld.com

Farm Stay US – http://www.farmstayus.com

Earth Rebirth works to bridge the gap between the world’s economic and environmental problems by focusing on three main factors required for life on Earth – Food, Energy and Water. They enlighten people of the economic incentive that comes along with environmentalism rather than the misconception that environmentalism cuts one’s means to thrive. For more information on Earth Rebirth, visit their Profile Page on MyCharityMap, our Outreach feature on them, or their official website.

Image: A young girl picks strawberries at a fruit farm. Photo by Oscar Shen Published through Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0).