Fall is an ideal time for farmers to add value to their businesses by engaging in agritourism and developing farm-to-table relationships.

Becky Smith, Mississippi State University Extension Service instructor of agricultural economics, said farmers can diversify income through fall agritourism activities like corn mazes, tractor rides and pumpkin patches.

“October is actually Agritourism Month in Mississippi, which doesn’t come as a surprise when you think about all the things it encompasses,” she said. “Agritourism can be broadly defined to include eco-tourism activities, such as deer hunting. At its heart, agritourism is anything that gets people to understand and appreciatewhere their food comes from.”

Agritourism is usually incorporated into working farms.

“In most cases, agritourism is just a part of a bigger production,” she said. “This is a way for farmers to earn income while also educating the local community.”

Some growers reach out to local restaurants in addition to selling their produce through local farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture programs, called CSAs.

Brittany Reyer, co-owner of Reyer Farms in Lena, said direct relationships between restaurants and farms, called farm-to-table relationships, allow restaurants to offer fresh and local produce totheir customers.

“It’s an experience that benefits the whole community,” she said. “The farmer can move produce to a local location, the chefs have the advantage of using fresh produce and the consumers get top quality.”

Reyer sells produce to several restaurants in the Jackson area, including Table 100, Walker’s Drive-In, Babalou’s, Nicks, Bravo’s, Parlor Market and Local 463.

“Selling our produce to local restaurants has really helped us get our name out there,” Reyer said. “We have a common goal to provide a quality product that is fresh and local. We agree that in this age, many people want to know more about what they are eating and where it comes from. We look forward to building stronger relationships with these businesses in Jackson.”

Reyer appreciates the way selling directly to restaurants connects her business to the community. “I like to purchase Mississippi-made products, and I think many consumers would agree that it is good for Mississippians to support local farmers. Farm-to-table links the farmer, the chef and restaurant and the consumer, and builds relationships, whichis good for our communities.”

The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ annual conference and trade show, held in conjunction with the Mississippi Agritourism Association, is a great resource for farmers who already have agritourism businesses and those who are interested in starting one.

The event willbe in Jackson Nov. 28 and 29.

This year’s conference will focus on farm safety and the newly passed limited liability law. There will be a discussion panel with representatives from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi Development Authority and MississippiDepartment of Transportation.

“We are going to have the latest information on how operators can use social media to market their operations better and tips on how to enhance the educational experience,” Smith said. “It’s a great networking opportunity, as well.”

Experts from MSU’s Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station will lead workshops on a variety of topics, including ways to improve the on-farm educational experience, how to sell to restaurants and grocery stores, and how to gain community support.

For more information on the conference, e-mail Smith at becky.smith@msstate.edu or visit http://www.msfruitandveg.com. For more information on how to expand farms through agritourism or farm-to-table relationships, contact the local Extension office or visit http://www.msucares.com.