Published on : Tuesday, August 5, 2014
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. – With its unique sweet fruit-flavoured liqueurs, a functioning farm and eccentric cast of characters which includes a dancing lemon — Bloomery Plantation Distillery has attracted tourists from every U.S. state as well as countries as far away as Laos and Iceland.
The West Virginia mini-distillery is part of a growing agriculture tourism trend that tourism advocates say can help revive struggling rural economies. Ag tourism refers to working farm enterprises geared to visitors, encompassing farm stands, pumpkin patches, barn dances, zip-line rides, pick-your-own berries, corn mazes and even weddings.
Linda Losey, who had never owned a farm before, started Bloomery Plantation Distillery in 2011 after deciding to try her hand at making limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur. The distillery uses many of its home-grown products in its drinks — “Moonshine Milkshake” and hard lemonade among them — plucking fresh raspberries, pumpkin, lemons and ginger.
Now, the business generates nearly $1 million in annual sales and employs 14 people. Until about a year ago, 97 per cent of its business was selling onsite, but that’s changing, said Rob Losey, Linda’s ex-husband and business partner. The split is now 80-20, and Losey said that number will continue to shift.
According to the most recent U.S. Agriculture Department statistics, farms engaging in ag tourism generated roughly $700 million in 2012 — a 24 per cent increase over five years. But that’s still a sliver compared to some other, more traditional forms of tourism; for example, visitors to national parks spent about $14.6 billion in communities within 60 miles last year.
Ag tourism is one of agriculture’s fastest growing sectors, said Kelly Smith, marketing and commodities director at the Missouri Farm Bureau.
“Many farmers are looking to add revenue streams to their farms,” Smith said.
Last month, the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency charged with promoting economic development in that area, launched a map and guide of nearly 300 farmer markets, vineyards, farm-to-fork restaurants and other destinations in an effort to boost the industry. The map and guide were published in Food Traveler Magazine and online.
Megan Bean, who recently visited the Bllomery Plantation distillery from nearby Harpers Ferry, said West Virginia needed to promote tourism as much as possible.
Tags: AG tourism