Green County agriculture groups, farmers support ag tourism opportunities
May 19, 2021
Agriculture in Wisconsin is not only for food and fuel production. It’s also bursting with tourism opportunities, something Green County agricultural groups and farmers are hoping to increase through policy change in the county.
“Green County Farm Bureau wants to preserve farmland and the entrepreneurial spirit of agriculture while also leaving opportunity for as many ag-related ideas to form as possible,” said Josh Schenk, president of Green County Farm Bureau. “There are many economic and social benefits to a comprehensive policy.”
Green County’s zoning board is considering changes to the zoning code that would allow for agricultural tourism activities on Green County farms. The code hasn’t been updated in over 40 years and applies primarily to production agriculture.
“This revision would mean the opportunity for increased revenue streams for struggling Green County farmers and likewise benefit surrounding rural businesses,” said Penny Molina, Green County farmer, in a press release. “It would also get Green County more in line with state and other counties’ agricultural tourism codes that are helping farmers in other counties thrive.”
Sue Nelson, a member of the Green County zoning board, supports ag tourism activities and the revenue those activities would bring to the county when tourists eat, shop and buy gasoline.
“I am very much in favor of agri-tourism,” Nelson said. “I support the creative opportunities it gives farmers and those who live on rural property to share the products and beauty of their land. There is not only financial support for the farmer or landowner, there is benefit for the county as a whole.”
Schenk said interest in ag-related tourism activities continues to rise, making it crucial to approve other revenue streams and personal interactions with customers on agriculture lands in the county. Green County Farm Bureau, along with Wisconsin Farmers Union South Central Chapter, Green County Development Corp, Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association and several farmers made statements at a May 10 meeting asking the board to approve broad uses of agriculturally-zoned land.
“The state of Wisconsin recognizes value in ag tourism, and we’re asking the county to do the same,” Schenk said.
Molina said after the May 10 meeting, it seems clear the zoning board is committed to updating code that will aid farmers and rural communities economically while preserving agricultural heritage in the county. But the board seems to need more clarity before making any decisions.
“What is in question is the scale and scope of allowable uses,” she said. “The committee is looking at various other Wisconsin county codes for guidance including, and most specifically, Dunn County. Though some of the allowable uses in Dunn’s code may not be a good fit for Green County, those rooted in agriculture like outdoor recreation, educational experiences and on-farm direct sales are being considered.”
The ag groups and farmers hoping to convince the county to update agriculture zoning code want to allow for activities such as outdoor recreation that might include fishing, hunting, wildlife studies and horseback riding, provide educational experiences to the public such as cannery tours, cooking classes and wine tasting, host entertainment events like harvest festivals, hay rides, weddings and barn dances, provide hospitality services including farm stays, guided tours and outfitter services and conduct on-farm direct sales through you-pick operations, farm stands, wines and flowers.
Conditional use permits are currently required for all of these activities.