When the family takes a vacation these days, it’s less likely than ever before that they’ll go to their grandparents’ farm…or that their grandparents ever had one. And as that way of life becomes more distant, some creative farmers are cooking up a way to invite them back to the countryside for a visit. Curt Arens (arnz) farms in Crofton, Nebraska, just across the river from Iowa, and is a part of the “Heartland Experience.” He says people hunger to get out on the land, and farmers have been coming up with ideas to support that desire and give them a “farm experience.” Agri-tourism, or farm tourism, is growing as people are more and more removed from family farms and don’t have any relative who once lived on the farm, but they want that experience for themselves…or for their children. The idea began with farmers along the Missouri River Valley, who asked a group of business students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to come up with a marketing plan for them: Knowing how pretty the valley and the region is, the students came up with the idea because so many tourists are also coming through this area thanks to the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial. If you know enough about farming to think it’s not all sunshine and roses, Arens says the landowners who’re inviting tourists have taken care to make it a positive experience. Most members have “very pastoral scenes,” and he gives the example of a grass-based dairy with green all around the barn, a beautiful sight. He says another member is putting in a vineyard and building a campground for visitors right next to it. This isn’t like the plains or the Platte River Valley, he says, but along the Missouri there are some very picturesque vistas, cozy wooded creek bottoms, and even some lovely farmground. They’re also working with a visitors’ center on the Nebraska side of the river, 3 miles from Yankton, called the “Corps of Discovery and they do a lot with motorcoach tours on the “PanAmerican Highway,” highway 81, and are helping put together package tours. Some of the farmers have camping and lodging available, some just offer farm tours. Arens says this is the service sector, new ground for farmers, who are used to producing commodities.
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