UMaine Extension professor earns national recognition for multistate collaboration in agritourism

Jason Entsminger, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Maine Business School and a University of Maine Cooperative Extension small business specialist, was recognized as part of a multistate team that received a 2024 Partnership Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The award, which notes exemplary work in support of the USDA’s strategic goals, was presented to the Agritourism Research and Extension Collaborative.

The goal of the Collaborative is to better understand the economic and social viability of agritourism and identify ways that research, outreach education and policy can more effectively support agricultural producers and their communities. Activities by collaborative members include nationwide surveys of agritourism operators and agritourism support organizations; the formation of new network facilitators such as the Agritourism Working Group within the National Extension Tourism Network and the Global Agritourism Network; and new educational resources such as fact sheets and training curriculum on agritourism.

“I am happy to introduce more Extension programming and help to strengthen Maine’s connections to other regions and resources that will support agritourism operations here at home,” said Entsminger, who joined the UMaine in September 2022. “At UMaine Extension and the Maine Business School, we’re developing evidence based resources that will help the state’s agricultural communities and businesses build sustainable agritourism models, provide opportunities for Mainers and visitors to experience our agricultural and coastal heritage and explore how farms and other businesses can strengthen their entrepreneurial networks for success.”

The collaborative was spurred in part by a team of researchers led by Lisa Chase of the University of Vermont conducting the first nationwide survey of agrotourism operators in 2019 and 2020. It received responses from all 50 states and delved into questions around the demographics of producers, the motivations and challenges faced by agritourism operators and the profitability of this unique approach to diversifying farm income. The results have been translated into practical tools that are used by producers and contribute directly to improved farm viability, including measurable impacts on profitability and quality of life indicators. 

Claudia Schmidt of Penn State University, a collaborative member, is leading an update to the survey. Responses from Maine farms will be used to create a state-specific fact sheet to improve people’s understanding of agritourism in a state that relies on the economic impacts of both tourism and agriculture.

According to the latest Census of Agriculture data from the USDA, agritourism, direct sales and on-farm value addition remain critical components of Maine’s agricultural economy. Between 2017 and 2022, the income gained by farms from agritourism and on-farm recreational activities doubled, accounting for $12.2 million, despite the number of farms engaged in these activities remaining nearly the same at 241. Nearly 20% of the total value of Maine agricultural products sold in 2022, $172.6 million, was sold directly by Maine farms to consumers, institutions, local and regional retailers, restaurants and food hubs.

In addition to the survey, the collaborative established a national network of producers, researchers, Extension personnel and others working in agritourism, which continues to work on improving farm viability for operators, expanding opportunities for economic development and quality of life improvements and providing agricultural education for consumers.

“We are excited that Dr. Entsminger and his colleagues have been recognized at the national level for their important collaborative research that will strengthen the agritourism industry in Maine,” said Hannah Carter, associate provost for online and continuing education and dean of UMaine Extension. “The ability of this team to work with farmers both here at home and across the country to understand their unique strengths and challenges is a hallmark of the Cooperative Extension system, which is built on partnerships between federal, state and local agencies that connect Maine communities to knowledge and resources developed at the nation’s Land and Sea Grant universities.” 

The project also inspired researchers outside of the U.S., spawning similar efforts in Brazil and Italy and the creation of the International Research Network on Agritourism. The collaborative was led by the University of Vermont, and consisted of nationwide members from 11 Land Grant universities and two tourism organizations, including the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association.