ANDERSON, SC – Among the rolling hills, Catherine Garrison Davis knows her family’s lands well.
“This is a booming region and we are proud to have been able to keep our farm agricultural,” she said.
This farm is known as the Denver Downs in Anderson, South Carolina, in the upstate region. Garrison Davis’ great-grandfather bought the land after the Civil War.
“He bought 200 acres on a little dirt road called Old Generals’ Road,” she said. “Well, fast forward 150 years, and it’s not a little dirt road anymore.”
It’s not the only thing that has changed here. It was a cotton farm, a dairy farm, and it is now a general farm, growing different crops and livestock. It is no longer the only source of income however.
“I guess one of the main products we have here on the farm is agritourism,” she said.
Agritourism, which invites visitors to farms for a variety of activities, is now one of the fastest growing parts of the agricultural landscape in the United States.
“We know that regular production farming is not as sustainable as it once was,” said Garrison Davis.
The United States Census of Agriculture began using the term “agritourism” in 2007. Since then, it has tracked its growth, up 67% in the first 10 years. More than 28,000 farms across the country are now adopting agritourism, resulting in nearly $ 1 billion in direct sales from people visiting these farms.
Across the border in Hendersonville, NC, Mike Stepp’s family apple orchard is also involved in agritourism.
“We kind of got into agritourism really,” he said. “I like to say that we were doing agrotourism when there were no words. So that has been a good thing for us.
It was a financial lifeline that enabled Stepp’s Hillcrest orchard, which his parents started in the 1960s.
“We actually had apples in bulk at that time,” he said. “And we started, he and my mom started experimenting with ‘choose yours. “”
Market forces ultimately accelerated the shift to agrotourism.
“Wholesale business in the 90s really started to have a lot of problems,” Stepp said. “Juice prices got depressed because of imported juices, in fact, and it came at a time when people just couldn’t really survive.”
The Stepp family have fully embraced agritourism by adding more activities to the property. More recently, during COVID, outdoor commerce has exploded.
“2020, with the pandemic, a lot of people have told us how much they appreciate what we’re doing here,” Stepp said. “It has helped us survive, and really, all the other things we’ve added over the past six years have really kept our farm. “
Returning to Denver Downs, Catherine Garrison Davis is preparing to open for another agrotourism season in the fall to preserve her great-grandfather’s legacy.
“We know it’s important to diversify and change over time,” she said. “I think he would be really proud of it.”