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Agritourism in Michigan is Focus of Statewide Summit

Agriculture, tourism, business, and government stakeholders to gather in Traverse City

By Kathy Gibbons

Agritourism in Michigan is the theme of the 2024 Michigan Agritourism Summit. || Courtesy of Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

The first-ever Michigan Agritourism Summit will be held in Traverse City in May. Traverse City Tourism President and CEO Trevor Tkach is among those helping organize the event presented by Michigan State University Extension, which is intended to shine a spotlight on the importance of agritourism in Michigan’s economy.

A pre-summit farm tour and welcome soiree will be offered Tuesday, May 7, with stops at farms as well as retail and restaurant operations based around agriculture. On Wednesday, May 8, participants will meet at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City to hear presentations relating to trends, the state of farming and agritourism in Michigan, regulations, and related topics.

Those speaking include Kathy Angerer, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development; Dianna Stampfler, president of Promote Michigan; Tkach; Suzi Spahr, executive director of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association; and others representing government, small business, and agricultural education.

Tkach describes the Michigan Agritourism Summit as being the result of “a lot of great minds coming together.” He says agritourism in Michigan—the diversity of agriculture and the resulting spinoffs into farm-to-table experiences, festivals, wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries—has been a significant driver for all tourism in the state.

“It’s been a big part of the storytelling of our state to be able to showcase all of this bounty,” Tkach says. “A concern many have is the sustainability of farming in the state. Agriculture is extremely unpredictable and trying to find ways to diversify opportunity for farmland so it can stay farmland is an important topic that we need to discuss together.”

Opportunities for attendees to experience agritourism in Michigan through outings at a winery or tours at a farm, for example, make the state all the more attractive when planners are choosing destinations for events.

“They love that, the ability to go out into the vineyards and learn a little bit about what it takes to make a bottle of wine and also sample that wine,” Tkach says. “It’s a great experience for meetings and events.”

Tkach notes that while he’s not expecting such opportunities to go away any time soon, he feels it’s important to focus on nurturing and growing the agritourism category.

“Margins are slim and weather is unpredictable, and should this start to swing in a negative direction—should we start to lose more farms—it will impact the tourism economy,” Tkach says. “It’s part of what makes us unique and special. If wineries get to a point where they can’t operate, that would have an impact on travel and tourism … that also goes for breweries and distilleries as well as farm-to-table restaurants.”

Bottom line, Tkach says, is addressing the state of agritourism in Michigan head-on right now rather than waiting. “It’s a real concern,” he says. “What does this state look like in the next five to 10 years if we don’t make some adjustments now?”