Tulip crowds

Visitors take photos April 17 in the display garden at RoozenGaarde.

Following public outreach this winter and spring, Skagit County is moving forward with its agritourism study, and is beginning to discuss possible policy changes.

The study is looking at the potential impacts of agritourism in the county. The results will influence potential updates to the county’s comprehensive plan and development code.

Agritourism is “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch, or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental income for the owner,” according to a definition from the University of California Davis.

Examples of agritourism include food service, weddings and other events, wine tastings, farm stays, u-pick operations and more.

The county posted an online survey on agritourism from late January through early April. There were 166 responses.

Lisa Grueter, with BERK Consulting, shared the survey results Tuesday with the Skagit County Board of Commissioners.

About 42% of respondents owned farmland, and 8% were interested in owning farmland, according to the results posted online.

About 11% of respondents already conducted agritourism activities and an additional 16% were considering it.

Many respondents said they did not have a regulatory barrier to conducting agritourism, and others said zoning and permits limited specific activities, such as food service.

Respondents were asked what they consider agritourism. The most popular responses were seasonal events, festivals, farm tours and accommodations, according to the results.

Respondents said the benefits of agritourism included education on food sources, additional farm income and an economic boost to other local businesses. About half said agritourism could strengthen their ability to actively farm.

The primary concerns over agritourism included parking, traffic and obstacles to commercial farming activities.

In addition, some respondents said there should be conditions placed on agritourism, such as the type and location of activities allowed.

The county got more feedback at eight small discussion groups in March with members of the agricultural community. Thirty-three participated in the discussions, Grueter said.

Participants cited the importance of agritourism supporting and not adversely impacting core farming activities, she said.

One idea was to define a core agricultural area where large-scale agritourism would not be allowed. Another was to allow agritourism on larger roads and on the perimeter of an area. Another option was to allow agritourism on small farms to keep land for farming that might otherwise be converted.

Discussion participants said rules need to be fair and enforceable.

Others asked how the county could support mid-sized farms, in addition to small and larger ones.

Lastly, there was interest in creation of a hub for agritourism activities, Grueter said.

Commissioner Lisa Janicki said she was interested in an agritourism hub, but in addition to allowing more agritourism on individual farms. Many farms are frustrated with the county’s zoning and permitting, she said.

Janicki said she supports protecting certain areas from significant agritourism.

“I also think it’s really important to protect those farm blocs so commercial farming can be done unimpeded,” she said.

Commissioners Peter Browning and Ron Wesen said the county needs to consider whether businesses seeking to do agritourism can be economically viable.

“I want to see businesses that are going to survive, not a business someone thinks will work and we know good and well it won’t,” Browning said.

Browning added the county’s study needs to look at agritourism in rural areas, not just on land zoned agricultural-natural resource.

For more information on the county’s agritourism study and how to participate in public meetings and events, visit skagitcounty.net/SkagitAGT

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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