Agritourism operators are in a unique position to add regenerative practices to their enterprises, according to Nicole Vaugeois, associate vice president of research at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia. She spoke about regenerative tourism and its opportunities for agritourism operations at the most recent International Workshop on Agritourism.

More and more farmers are fully embracing the concept of regenerative agriculture, which uses a conservation and rehabilitation approach to farming systems. Focuses can include topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration of carbon, increasing resilience to climate change and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

Regenerative tourism takes a similar approach. The basic idea is that those who visit a destination leave it better than it was before they arrived, and their experiences at a site go beyond traditional vacation activities.

Marrying the two concepts together can make sense, both from a financial and a marketing viewpoint. More and more people are curious about where their food comes from, and oftentimes, those people always want to know the agriculture behind the food is sustainable.

Vaugeois quoted Anne Pollock, professor and Head of Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College, London, who began tackling the subject with research back in 2019: “The way we have designed the tourism business model is based on our known business-as-usual model. Sustainable tourism … has been about doing tourism better with less impact but still using the same business model – a greener, cleaner and less harmful version of business as usual. Regenerative tourism is bolder and more inspiring and aims not just to do less harm but to go on and restore the harm that our system has already done to the natural world and create the conditions of life to flourish.”

Vaugeois added, “Learning is like the pollination process – it’s sharing and creating.”

What can regenerative agritourism look like on your farm? You can highlight any of the paradigm shifts you’ve made. Rather than competing with nature, you’re partnering with it. Rather than disturbing the soil, you’re protecting it. Instead of planting monocultural crops, you’re embracing diversity. Even if these include small changes like larger, more pollinator-friendly hedgerows or min-till practices or nutrient-restoring crop rotations, highlight those practices for visitors.

“Reflect on where we’ve come from and what we’ve learned along the way,” Vaugeois suggested. “Are you and your visitors aware of the changes that are happening? Is there a desire to change? Do you have the knowledge and ability to change? And is there [positive] reinforcement of that change?”

It helps if the regenerative changes you’re highlighting prioritize place, she added. Don’t talk about what farmers across the country are doing (although that can help paint the picture). Give concrete examples of what your farm is doing to restore the land it sits upon.

by Courtney Llewellyn