Tech offers state’s first agritourism concentration

Next semester, classes will be offered for a new concentration as part of the bachelor’s degree in agriculture.Tech is the first university in Tennessee to offer a degree concentration in agritourism, the combination of agriculture and tourism, the state’s top two income-producing industries. The concentration will partially merge agriculture with business for students to learn an assortment of skills needed to work on farms or ranches that incorporate an enterprise of tourism.

A growing trend of farms is to introduce a new way to gather additional income to support on-farm operations. Some ways are petting zoos, hay rides, camping, hiking and corn mazes. Farmers may not know how to manage these.

“If I’m a farmer in East Tennessee, I may open my land for tourism to gain more income,” Billye Foster, School of Agriculture director, said. “Suddenly I have 20 employees, and I don’t have time to manage them because of farm business, I need to hire managers. This is where the students come in.”

Agritourism has many similar names such as agricultural tourism, agrotourism and farm tourism. In 2003, the Tennessee Agritourism Initiative Steering Committee defined agritourism as “an activity, enterprise or business that combines primary elements and characteristics of Tennessee agriculture and tourism and provides an experience for visitors that stimulates economic activity and impacts both farm and community income.”

Other similar programs in U.S. universities are no older than three years, so there is no set formula for the concentration to follow.

“We may edit it, add some classes and see what works,” Foster said. “You’re inventing as you go, so we’re sort of feeling our way through the dark.”

The School of Agriculture is also hoping to renovate the historic Shipley Barn, built in 1818 by North Carolina pioneer Abraham Buck located near the Hyder-Burks Agricultural Pavillion. The barn would be turned into the Shipley Heritage Farm Center, a laboratory for agriculture students. The school wants to make the farm center a living 1830s farmstead with era-accurate equipment.

The proposal for the Shipley Heritage Farm Center includes recreating the farmhouse, refurbishing the barn and developing a living history museum of area agriculture.