(The Center Square) – Agritourism in Maryland is expanding under a newly signed law that will allow farmers to diversify their income streams.
House Bill 558, which was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan, now allows farmers to include camping and other outdoor stays as agritourism grows in the state. In the past, farmers typically were confined to activities like apple picking, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches.
Advocated by Hipcamp and the Maryland Farm Bureau, HB558 updates what the state designates as agritourism to include the new activities.
“It’s the biggest thing that farmers do to diversify their farm operation,” Colby Ferguson, Maryland Farm Bureau’s Director of Government Relations, told The Center Square, referring to agritourism as a whole.
Some farmers who have added camping to their farm portfolio have reported increased earnings of 30% to 40%, according to Ferguson.
“They have like a little general store there and the campers buy their eggs and their bacon and they buy their vegetables and stuff like that and they go out to their campsite,” he said.
Hipcamp, an online marketplace company where private landowners can offer camping stays, has become one of the primary ways Maryland farmers list their camping agritourism experiences, Businesswire reported.
During the pandemic when interest in open-air activities surged, camping on farms grew in popularity, according to Ferguson.
“One of the areas where people really wanted to camp at was open areas around farms, where they could see livestock and crops growing and things like that,” he said.
The new law does not mandate counties to allow farm camping but provides the state’s blessing if they so choose, according to Ferguson. Some counties have welcomed it, he pointed out, while others remain ambiguous.
Apart from increased revenue, the other primary goal of inviting the public onto farm properties, whether through pick-your-own enterprises or camping among the crops, is education, said Ferguson.
“We want the public to access the rural area and the farms because most everybody is three or more generations removed from agriculture so it’s almost like an ag education tool,” he said.
He notes they are not trying to turn farms into glorified commercial activities, but simply want the public to gain a greater appreciation of where their food originates.