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Cash crops

Agritourism producing much-needed income for struggling industry

Owner Brent Walker scratches one of his llamas at WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Watching a 2-hour-old alpaca wrestle with its footing to stand upright for the first time at a New Jersey farm not far from your own backyard:

That counts as tourism, too.

It’s called agritourism, and there’s a major appetite for it. That’s exemplified by the growth of events such as the Tour de Farm NJ, which brings people out into New Jersey’s verdant green countryside to visit a selection of state’s more than 9,000 farms.

“Metro New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania residents now want to know who their farmers are, where their farm products are grown, what their farmers feed their animals and how the farmers treat their farm animals,” Tour de Farm’s organizer, Mitch Morrison, said. “It’s a real trend.

“And this interest in local produce is dramatically growing. You see what’s going on with Chipotle and every large restaurant or retail outfit right now. They’re having to change their menu to adapt to it.”

Morrison’s annual bike tour invites people get more in touch with agriculture by taking them on an approximately 80-mile stretch of farmlands, with stops for food and other products along the way.

For Sandy Chapman, who described that aforementioned alpaca episode, touring a slice of New Jersey’s 715,000 acres of farmland at last year’s cycling event connected him with experiences he never would’ve thought to have.

“Many people haven’t even had the experience of seeing how beautiful of farmland areas New Jersey really has,” Chapman said. “It’s an important part of our heritage.”

The emergent interest in agritourism had the bike tour turning away 250 people last year. The expanded 2015 iteration will consist of three tours across Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties.

Third-generation New Jersey farmer Brent Walker has seen the evolution of agritourism.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve seen an increase in this,” he said. “My father used to do a farmers market in New York City 20 years ago, and people wanted to know back then where their food was coming from.

Brett Johnson

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