‘Food is an essential element’: Legislation would give agriculture a voice at federal level
Politics, U.S. & World

‘Food is an essential element’: Legislation would give agriculture a voice at federal level

Rebecca Barnabi
corn field in Virginia
A lush crop of well-fertilized corn. Photo courtesy of DCR.

One of the fastest growing industries in the United States is agritourism, which has become the lifeblood of many rural local economies.

In 2002, agritourism businesses earned an income of $202 million and that income rose by nearly 370 percent to $949 million in 2017.

The Accelerating the Growth of Rural Innovation and Tourism Opportunities to Uphold Rural Industries and Sustainable Marketplaces (AGRITOURISM) Act would create an Office of Agritourism at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to represent the interests of agritourism businesses. Federal resources would also be consolidated to sustain agritourism businesses, including loans, grants, and broadband connectivity programs.

U.S. Reps. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia and Dan Newhouse of Washington introduced the legislation today.

“From wineries to u-picks to farm breweries to farm stands, agritourism is spurring economic development in communities all across our country,” Wexton, who is co-chair of the Congressional Agritourism Caucus, said. “I’ve heard from too many small business owners in our region about how hard it is to get connected with the resources that they need to grow their agritourism businesses, which is why I’m proud to be leading the bipartisan AGRITOURISM Act establish a dedicated Office of Agritourism within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As founder of the Congressional Agritourism Caucus and representative of hundreds of thriving agritourism businesses here in Virginia, I’m proud to help elevate the voices of our nation’s agritourism business owners and ensure their needs are heard here in Washington.”

Newhouse said that world-class wineries, breweries, farms, dairies and farmers’ markets call central Washington home. They all serve as “vital parts of the agritourism industry and make our region so special. I am proud to introduce the Agritourism Act to ensure that these local businesses have an advocate within USDA which will in turn help preserve our important agriculture traditions and honor our way of life.”

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer is also co-chair of the Congressional Agritourism Caucus.

“Agritourism in North Carolina provides farmers an innovative source of income while helping visitors to better learn how they provide for our nation’s food supply and the critical impact they have on our rural communities that contribute so much to our country.  I’m proud to introduce the Agritourism Act with Congresswoman Wexton to improve access to the resources available to help our farmers and rural communities benefit from the unique economic opportunities agritourism has to offer,” he said.

An Office of Agriculture within the USDA would promote the growth and development of agritourism businesses across the country by giving them a much needed voice at the federal level, advising the Secretary of Agriculture on agritourism-related policy matters, and ensuring that information about federal resources available to agritourism businesses is easily accessible.

“The NAFDMA International Agritourism Association continues to support the introduction of this legislation and we appreciate the awareness it brings to the agritourism aspect of agriculture. Farms today are looking to connect with consumers in new and innovative ways, and agritourism can be that conduit for many as they also look for diversification options in their farm business. This legislation may allow USDA to incorporate agritourism more fully into their service model,” said Suzi Spahr, Executive Director of the International Agritourism Association (NAFDMA).

Southeast Tourism Society President & CEO Monica Smith said that food is essential when telling the story of a community.

“Drawing on local history, culture and agriculture, many area chefs, restaurateurs, craft brewers, distillers, vintners, farmers markets, festival and event organizers, and culinary shops are illuminating the rich traditions and agricultural resources of their communities. Southeast Tourism Society enthusiastically supports the AGRITOURISM Act, which would bring a new level of support to these diverse professionals working to drive tourism and economic growth to their communities,” Smith said.

The AGRITOURISM Act is U.S. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, Josh Harder of California, Jimmy Panetta of California, David Rouzer of North Carolina and David Valadao of California.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.