Welch Farm has been in Lisa Hanscom’s family since 1912, but the fifth-generation blueberry farmer knew that in order to keep the farm profitable its resume needed to be expanded beyond just selling blueberries to processors during the short two-month season.
“It’s getting extremely hard to make a living just off agriculture,” Hanscom, who operates the farm with her father, said. “If we wanted to keep the farm, we had to figure out other ways to bring income to the farm.”
With the farm’s rich history, Hanscom decided adding informational tours and cabins for people to stay in would be a good way to increase the draw to the farm, which ― located in Roque Bluffs ― has sweeping views of Englishman Bay and borders Roque Bluffs state park.
This month the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry gave farms offering tourism opportunities like Welch Farm a new tool to promote their agribusinesses with the release of the Maine Agri-Tourism Map, highlighting the role that agriculture plays in the state’s tourism industry.
“In the past year we realized [agritourism is] a new and emerging market and we wanted to highlight the unique, hands-on experience that many Maine farms offer,” said Melissa Macaluso, assistant to the DACF Commissioner for Special Projects.
The bright and expansive map, the cover of which features an image of Welch Farm, marks over 200 farms and agriculture operations across the state that offer some form of customer interaction, ranging from farm stand hours to farm bed and breakfasts to full-blown hayrides or sleigh rides.
With the new release of the map, and word spreading about its existence, DACF expects that farms not presently included on the map will express interest in being a part of the listings.
The farms on the map were compiled from the 449 farms and agribusinesses registered with Get Real Get Maine, DACF’s promotional effort that brands Maine farms. To be included on the map farms had to meet one of several criteria. They had to offer farm stand or store hours of operation, be seeking visitors to the farm, have recreation or education opportunities or offer hands-on experiences, such as pick your own produce.
Of the 449 Get Real Get Maine registered farms, 263 met these criteria and wanted to be identified on the map.
“I think a lot of farmers see the value in [agritourism] and allowing other people to take a piece of their farm home with them,” Macaluso said.
In 2015, over 33 million people visited the state, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. With visitors having an increased interest in being connected with local food, DACF spokesman John Bott said, the map will help connect them with this local agriculture and Maine’s farming traditions.
Farms and agribusinesses are marked on the map with icons that indicate them as a farm stand, a greenhouse, a maple operation, a farm bed and breakfast, a pick-your-own-produce farm or orchard, a Christmas tree farm, a vineyard or winery, as well as a farm that offers activities such as hayrides or cornfield mazes.
While Welch Farm added their agritourism offerings nearly a century after their farm began, for Treworgy Family Orchards in Levant, agritourism was always a part of their business model since Gary Treworgy started the apple orchard in the mid-1980s.
The family-run orchard offers a host of farm activities including pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, hayrides and wagon rides, a corn maze, a country store and cafe, along with an array of livestock for viewing. Agricultural director and marketing manager Matt Pellerin, who is the son-in-law of Gary and Patty Treworgy, said that by offering such an array of farm opportunities for customers they’re able to connect them with Maine’s agriculture traditions.
“For the farmer, one thing is [agritourism] kind of makes our farms a community hub,” Pellerin said. “Especially in the Northeast, we all have a connection to a farming heritage in some way … So when there is an authentic way for people to have a good time with their family while connecting with their farming heritage, it’s great.”
Since Hanscom began offering fresh-packed blueberries for purchase at the farm, as well as the farm tours about six years ago, not only have visitors found a love for the history of her family’s farm and the blueberry industry as a whole, but she’s found a love for sharing that history as well.
Tours of the farm are offered throughout the summer, and increase during blueberry season in late July and August. Hanscom said the tours have brought hundreds of people to their farm, but given their remote location, she’s hopeful that the new agritourism map will make more people aware of her family’s farm.
“People have to kind of go down a backroad to get to use, we’re definitely one of those hidden gems,” Hanscom said. “I think this map, when you give it to people, they’ll be able to find a lot of these unique farms.”
Hanscom herself said that the map has brought new farms that she didn’t know existed to her attention. Macaluso said this was a goal of the map, to also serve as a resource for those who live in Maine, not just visitors. By compiling the farm location and a description of their offerings, DACF hopes that the map will give Mainers a better idea of what is locally offered near them.
Also included on the map, to further incorporate agriculture into tourists’ plans, are state parks and a listing of the state’s agricultural fairs, as well as a list of produce that is in season during different times of year.
“[The agritourism map] will expand the opportunities for visitors to come and see new things and maybe move a little more inland,” Macaluso said. “It’s going to help people, once they get here, find new opportunities to explore Maine on the way to their final destination.”
The map was distributed at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show this month, and will be made available at travel stops and tourism centers across the state in coming months. DACF also hopes to have an online version of the map available on its website by late spring.
“Millions of people come to Maine as a tourist destination,” Pellerin said. “Not only do we offer amazing coastal towns and beaches and views, but we have something very special to offer with our farmers as well.”