What was once called farming is now often called agri-business, and with agri-business has come agri-tourism.
Agri-tourism is a broad term that can reflect a range of authentic agricultural experiences: Pick your own fruit. Harvest grapes at a vineyard. Tour a working farm. Sample a Virginia wine. Shop a farmer’s market, or dine at a farm-to-table restaurant. Milk a goat or ride a llama. The choices are diverse because agriculture is such a wide-ranging and powerful force in Virginia. It is by far the biggest industry in the commonwealth, with an economic impact of $52 billion annually. Statewide, there are now about 1,400 agri-tourism businesses—many in the Shenandoah Valley.
When you’re ready to become an agri-tourist, we urge to consider visiting these sites:
Applewood Inn and Llama Trekking— A picture-perfect country inn between Lexington and Natural Bridge. Take a two-hour guided Llama ride, then feast on a menu made largely with bounty from the Inn’s own garden.
Barren Ridge Vineyards— On land once devoted to growing apples, the owners planted a vineyard and converted an old fruit packing barn to a winery and tasting room. Bring your own picnic basket, sip a splendid Virginia wine, and take in the extraordinary views.
Crosskeys Vineyards–A lush, family owned operation with spectacular views, Crosskeys offers 100-percent estate grown wines. Take a 30-minute tour to see how grapes are grown, pressed, produced, stored and bottled. Enjoy Sunday brunch or dine at the Bistro in season.
Dayton Market— A group of 20 shops and cafes offering local fresh beef and poultry, fine cheeses, spices, jams and jellies, produce, gourmet coffee, fresh baked goods, and authentic country cooking.
Discover Shenandoah— Let Discover Shenandoah help you map out a day or two on the Blue Ridge Whiskey/Wine Loop—a network of 15 vineyards, wineries, a distillery and restaurants that combine a heart-lifting tour of the Valley with Virginia wine tastings that will spoil other libations for you.
Frontier Culture Museum–Long before agri-tourism were Europeans who settled in Virginia and farmed for subsistence. Genuine and re-created English, German, Irish and even African farms from the 1600s forward are authentically displayed, and live demonstrations show us historically accurate views of rural life.
Marker Miller Orchards Farm Market and Bakery— Family owned and operated for five generations. Pick your own produce—in July, choose from peaches, raspberries, blackberries and tomatoes. Or take the kids on a scenic wagon ride, ride the Cow Train, or enjoy a picnic. Shop an extensive selection of farm bounty, baked goods, produce of all kinds, jams, jellies, cider, etc.
Orland E. White Arboretum— The State Arboretum of Virginia, 170 acres of pristine beauty just east of Winchester. Evergreens, boxwood, a 300-tree ginko grove, herbaceous gardens, hiking trails and a three-mile drive of natural beauty. Garden fairs, summer camps, youth naturalist programs and educational activities bring the beauty and value of nature to life here.
Pale Fire Brewing—Named “One of the Best New Breweries” by Beer Advocate. Is it a stretch to include breweries in “agri-tourism?” Not if you consider the number of farmers branching into the business, plus critical agricultural ingredients like hops. Pale Fire doesn’t offer tours right now but you can watch much of the operation from their Tap Room. Pale Fire serves 10 beers made on site plus offers a full calendar of events like live folk music and “Summer is for Runners.” Located in Harrisonburg’s Ice House.
Peaks of Otter Winery— Near Bedford and the Blue Ridge Parkway, this beautiful winery offers no less than 30 varieties of wine made primarily from fruits grown on the estate. This is an ideal month to visit, as the 13th Annual Horse and Hound Wine Festival is July 8th. Jousting, lure coursing, kids’ rides and many horse events will keep your family busy and delighted.
Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail— Thirteen breweries devoted to advancing the art of craft beer-making. All are within an hour’s drive of one another, from Harrisonburg to Natural Bridge. What better way to relax after a full day of hiking, mountain biking, cavern touring or otherwise exploring the Shenandoah Valley? Check the website to find out about live music, food service, tours, etc.
Shenandoah Heritage Market— Located minutes from downtown Harrisonburg, this market is a multi-shop combination of local produce, baked goods, cheese, flowers and shrubs, Amish furniture, quilts, and country gifts of all kinds. Enjoy the water gardens and relax on the park benches.
Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse–Showalter’s grows 30 kinds of apples and makes sweet cider on the premises, plus you can pick your own lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and strawberries in season. A wide variety of greenhouse plants adds to their allure. The owners’ passion for growing is passed on through numerous workshops and gardening classes. See their video here.
White Oak Lavender Farm— A combination farm/gift shop and “U Pick” lavender farm in summer, plus a petting area full of farm animals your children will love. Daily tours in season, wine and culinary events, mountain views. Perfect for a day trip with the family.
Wholesome Foods Country Deli— Family-owned food distributor in Edinburg, offering the Old Dominion Brand country ham products, bacon, roast beef, and deli turkey breast. Also on the menu: fresh poultry, eggs, meats and deli items–many of which can be delivered to your door via their on-line shop.
Wisteria Farm and Vineyard— Lovely acreage in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park near Luray, farmed since the 1890s. All their grapes are Virginia-grown. Tour the farm, sample their wines, listen to live music, or even pitch in during the harvest at “Pick ‘Em and Stomp ‘Em” on August 26.
Hopefully those spots are enough to get you started. But so ingrained is agriculture to the Shenandoah Valley that in 2010, a group of economic developers, farmers, agricultural organizations, tourism officials and others created Fields of Gold, a program devoted to promoting the Valley’s agri-tourism sites and activities. Visit their site for even more ways to explore the world of agri-tourism. Most Valley towns and cities have thriving Farmer’s Markets in season as well, just too many to mention here.
Photo courtesy Harrisonburg Tourism and Visitor Services.