The Experience of Ontario Farm Families Engaged in Agritourism
Ainley, Suzanne Elizabeth
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This phenomenological study explored the experiences of farm families starting and operating agritourism. Many extant studies of agritourism have privileged positivistic methodologies and quantitative approaches. To better understand the lived experiences of farm families who have started and embrace agritourism and to fully appreciate the intertwined and complex nature of the various factors involved within the family, a more interpretative approach was required. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis(IPA) guided the design, analysis, and overall implementation of the study. Phenomenology allowed meaningful experiences and essential structures associated with the phenomenon of agritourism, from the perspective of those directly involved in it, to be fully and deeply explored. In this study, three multi-generational farm families actively engaged in agritourism within Ontario participated. Unlike previous agritourism studies which just involved one family member, usually the farmer, as many members of each farm family as possible were included in this study. A total of 17 members across the three families participated and data were collected through a combination of on-site observations and active interviews. Beginning with a simple introductory question of each participant, “Can you tell me how agritourism got started on your farm”, a number of themes emerged. By taking an interpretative stance, the individual themes were further baled into six super-ordinate themes: • Retailing, Educating, Entertaining– describing agritourism; • Being the Face of Farming–the re-connecting of farms and farmers to consumers; • We Are the Farm–impressions about how agritourism is retaining and sustaining a farming identity while introducing unique challenges associated with embracing agritourism on the farm; • Family Comes First–speaking to the prevalence of economics as a reason for embracing agritourism, while also further exploring agritourism’s role in sustaining the family farm; • Coming Home–focuses on the inseparability of the farm as a place of residence and work where new challenges, opportunities, and attitudes towards intergenerational transfer of the farm emerge; and finally, • Becoming an Agritourism Farm–captures the incremental process and key watershed moments associated with switching into agritourism. By exploring the experience of agritourism from the perspectives of the families, our understanding of agritourism has been expanded, while some of our pre-existing beliefs and assumptions about agritourism are also challenged. Getting involved in agritourism was articulated by farm families as occurring through a series of smaller, incremental decisions usually over several years as the farm naturally took on new and additional activities and eventually evolved into an agritourism enterprise. The transition revealed the place – the farm, and the people integral and historically associated with it – as a productive agricultural space was changing into being consumptive spaces. The unplanned transition into agritourism affected the farmer as well as other members of the family. However, the transition also sustained a farming identity and way of life in an era of intense globalization and agricultural intensification. This study sheds light on how different members of the families have been involved in the process, as well as illuminated new perspectives on: how agritourism sustains key characteristics defining a family farm, how the farm re-engages with consumers, how an entrepreneurial spirit is fostered, and how continuous adaptation on the farm ensures its viability for future generations of the family.