A new ordinance in the town of Durham would allow local farms to host agritourism events. This could include tours, farm-to-table dinners, educational demonstrations and other ventures that would bring more visitors to local farms.
Agritourism allows farms to diversify their profits, which is especially important to those that aren’t large enough to receive subsidies.
“Durham’s brand is agriculture,” said Frank DeFelice, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “Durham has a unique geographic location. Because of its central geography, Durham is in a unique position where people from all over the state can easily access the town.”
Jesse Allen, owner of Leaning Oak Farm in Durham, said DeFelice had reached out to him, and also Tim Gastler of Gastler Farm, for counsel when creating the ordinance. Allen said that the process took about two and a half years.
“What we wanted to do to accommodate agritourism is to look at what the criteria was to create the proper balance between the needs of the farmers and the new model of agriculture,” DeFelice said.
DeFelice created a task force consisting of Allen and Gastler and also various state agricultural commissions. They looked at how farm venues hosting events would address issues such as parking and traffic flow at larger events, as well as making sure that buildings on local farms could safely hold larger assemblies of people.
“Our entire business model even before it was approved by the town has been designed around (those concerns),” Allen said. “The whole design of the garden is conducive to folks walking around, relaxing.”
Allen began farming after a 15-year career in corporate finance. He said that he finally started farming because of his “obsession with good food” and education.
“People want to feel more connected to their food, they want to know where it comes from,” Allen said.
According to DeFelice, the increased revenue brought in by agritourism won’t only help local farms, but the entire town. He said, “After they eat lunch or dinner at the farm … They might then go to one of our stores on Main Street. They might decide they want to get an ice cream down here at the south side of town. That initial economic boom that we see in the agricultural area will expand out to our commercial businesses.”