Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

July 13, 2014

Economic leaders look to harvest agritourism in region

SUTTONS BAY — The email arrived in Susan Odom’s inbox on June 16 at 7:34 a.m.

Dina Ferree’s message was straight-forward and brief. Ferree and her boyfriend, Roger Fink, of Indiana, planned a camping trip to a state park in the Traverse City area during the National Cherry Festival and, during their journey, they wanted to visit a real northern Michigan farm.

“We would like to stop by and visit your farm,” Ferree wrote to Odom. “Do we make an appointment or just drop by?”

Odom, proprietor of the Hillside Homestead in Suttons Bay, was happy to oblige. Ferree and Fink arrived in Traverse City last week and headed out on M-22 to Odom’s small farm on a day when other tourists busied themselves with more traditional events like a beer tent, a pie eating contest and an ice cream social.

The couple watched in the chilly morning hours as Odom fed hogs, tended to baby chicks and talked about cooking atop an old cast iron stove. They even got to glimpse Odom’s old, historical books with worn, frayed binders. They are books that seemingly ask their readers to take a trip back in time to what turn-of-the-century life was like in northern Michigan.

“It’s a place where people can come to a farm and stay,” Odom said of Hillside Homestead, which offers guests dinners and overnight stays. “You can come for a very authentic farm experience and actually experience the farm life.”

That snippet of two tourists’ time represents a big opportunity for the Grand Traverse region’s tourism industry, economic development experts said. The experience is known as agritourism, a somewhat nebulous concept that represents, in the broadest sense, the ability for people to get up close and personal with agriculture as it happens.

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