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Growing number of farms turning to agritourism for success

Agritourism, which invites visitors onto farms for a variety of activities, is now one of the fastest-growing parts of the farming landscape in the U.S.
Catherine Garrison Davis' great-grandfather bought 200 acres of land after the Civil War, which would eventually become the family farm known as 'Denver Downs' in Anderson, S.C. Agritourism is an important part of the farm's financial success.
Denver Downs has been a cotton farm, dairy farm and is now a general farm, growing different crops and livestock. That’s no longer the only source of income, though, as agritourism has become a major focus.
In Hendersonville, North Carolina, agritourism is a financial lifeline that’s kept Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard going through the decades.
Mike Stepp's parents started the family farm in the 1960s and began inviting people to 'pick-their-own' apples during that time, which was their first step into agritourism.
Corn mazes are also a part of agritourism, which they have embraced at Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard in North Carolina.
Posted at 9:30 AM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 10:09:23-04

ANDERSON, S.C. — Among the rolling hills, Catherine Garrison Davis knows her way around her family’s land.

“It's a booming area and we're proud that we've been able to keep our farm in agriculture,” she said.

That farm is known as Denver Downs in Anderson, South Carolina, within the state’s upstate region. Garrison Davis’ great-grandfather bought the land after the Civil War.

“He bought 200 acres on a little dirt road called Old Generals' Road,” she said. “Well, fast forward 150 years, and it's no longer a little dirt road anymore.”

That’s not the only thing that changed here. It’s been a cotton farm, dairy farm, and is now a general farm, growing different crops and livestock. That’s no longer the only source of income though.

“A main product I guess we have here at the farm is agritourism,” she said.

Agritourism, which invites visitors onto farms for a variety of activities, is now one of the fastest-growing parts of the farming landscape in the U.S.

“We know that regular production agriculture is not as sustainable like it was in the past,” Garrison Davis said.

The U.S. Census of Agriculture first began using the term “agritourism” in 2007. Since then, it has tracked its growth, up 67% in the first 10 years. More than 28,000 farms across the country now embrace agritourism, resulting in nearly a billion dollars in direct sales from people visiting those farms.

Across the border in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Mike Stepp’s family apple orchard is also involved in agritourism.

“We kind of got full bore into agritourism,” he said. “I do like to say that we were doing agritourism when there was no word. So, it’s been a great thing for us.”

It’s a financial lifeline that’s kept Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard going, which his parents started in the 1960s.

“We had actually wholesale apples at that time, he said. “And we began, he and my mother, began to experiment with ‘pick your own.’”

Market forces eventually accelerated the shift to agritourism.

“Wholesale in the 90s really began to have a lot of problems,” Stepp said. “Juice prices became depressed because of imported juice, actually, and it got at one point where folks just couldn't really survive.”

The Stepp family has fully embraced agritourism by adding more activities to the property. Most recently, during COVID, the outdoor business boomed.

“2020, with the pandemic, we had numerous people tell us about how much they appreciated what we do here,” Stepp said. “It has helped us survive, and really, all the other things that we've added actually just in the last six years have made it really possible for us to keep our farm.”

Back at Denver Downs, Catherine Garrison Davis is preparing to open for another agritourism season in the fall to keep her great-grandfather’s legacy alive.

“We know it's important to diversify and to change with the times,” she said. “I think he'd be really proud of that.”