By Heather Noel
Through new offerings in research and an academic course, the University of North Texas College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism will help prepare students to enter the booming agritourism industry.
The program growth will be supported by a more than $245,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The funding is part of the USDA’s recent $14 million overall investment to advance learning experiences in the agricultural and human science sectors at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
Agritourism is defined as educational or recreational activities carried out on a farm or ranch by members of the public. In the fall, these activities are especially present through pick your own pumpkin patches and apple orchards as well as large scale events like state fairs, which celebrate agricultural products and heritage.
In the U.S., agritourism revenues tripled from 2002 to 2017. And, economic forecasts project the global agritourism market will reach more than $117 billion by 2027.
“Agritourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the hospitality and tourism industry,” says Birendra KC, associate professor in UNT’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management who focuses on nature-based and sustainable tourism. “And it’s even more important because agritourism has the potential to mitigate climate change and improve food supply as well as celebrate the experiences of farmers, their heritage and their sense of attachment to their rural landscape.”
With the USDA funding, hospitality and tourism faculty Birendra KC and Xingyi Zhang are designing a five-week online agritourism course. Debuting in Summer 2024, the course will give students an overview of the industry and an opportunity to hear from agritourism professionals around Texas about their experiences.
Additionally, the grant will support independent agritourism project-based learning opportunities, especially for undergraduate students from underrepresented communities.
“People want to experience and feel attachment to a local community and place,” says Zhang, an assistant professor who specializes in event management and consumer behavior. “Agritourism can build relationship between tourists and the locals. Our students need to understand agritourism as a sector and how we can connect food and beverage, tourism and travel all together.”