By CINDY LADAGE
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — When thoughts of North Carolina come to mind, people often focus on the cities, the coast or the history; however, there is of course also a thriving farming community.
With hundreds of farms surrounding this college town, agritourism has become a tourist draw in and around Chapel Hill. “Exploring farms, pick-your own events and enjoying local farm marketsis a way for people to experience life in the country and learn where their food comes from and how it is processed,” said Laurie Paolicelli, director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.
“Tourists are encouraged to engage in multiple activities such as picking their own fruit and vegetables, trying blueberry cider made at the local blueberry farm and going on nature walks,” These are not just leisurely pursuits; they also have a significant economic impact on the farmers.
“Agritourism in Orange County creates new opportunities for farmers to add to their revenue stream, to strengthen the family farm and to increase a connection to the public all while preserving the agricultural heritage here,” she explained.
That connection can come with an experience such as a hayride around Maple View Farm and tasting the farm’s icecream and milk. That’s not only fun, it encourages learning and engagement.
Started by the Bob Nutter family, originally in Maine, the family and Maple View Farms moved in 1963 to Orange County.
Nutter is a fifth-generation farmer, and it was his grandfather who purchased the family’s first registered Holstein dairy cow.
In 2008, the team added Maple View Farm Milk. The farm produces more than 2 million pounds of milk a year, and the company makes milk and butter that is sold to around 50 local stores. On-site, the Maple View Agricultural Education Center offers learning opportunities for both adults and children about agriculture through interactive experiences.
For details about Maple View Farm, log onto www.mapleviewfarmcom Nearby Chapel Hill Creamery is operated by two women who clearly love what they do – they raise contented Jersey milk cows and make cheese. They foster a low-stress environment and calm handling practices, such as moving the herd slowly to and from milking. With lots of green pastures, these happy cows are raised with the AWA-Animal Welfare Approved food label.
A chef provides visitors grilled sausage and cheese and a demonstration of the creamery’s beautiful ox, named Fryer, who shows how he works with a plow. Fryer is the star of the Chapel Hill Creamery, along with farmhouse cheeses created on-site. While the creamery doesn’t sell direct to consumers, it will send cheese gift boxes by request.
This farm uses everything it creates, including whey, a byproduct of the cheese-making process, to nourish its whey-fed pork. Visitors have a chance to see these hogs while visiting the farm. Information about Chapel Hill Creamery is available at www.chapelhillcreamery.com Another stop is Honeysuckle Tea House. This open-air tea house is a cool oasis with fans stirring the humid air, and iced tea.
Its purpose is to provide the surrounding communities with a pastoral sanctuary and offer a dispensary of alternative health care in the form of food, herbal remedies and education.
The tea house staff grows their own organic produce and invent their own recipe blends for the tea, tinctures,honey wines, soups, salves, chocolates, soaps and balms.
For more information about the Honeysuckle Tea House, log onto www.honeysuckleteahouse.com According to the National Tour Assoc. (NTA), an estimated 62 million people in the United States vacation on a farm, ranch or vineyard each year. The 2007 Census of Agriculture stated that income from agritourism had grown from $202 million in 2002 to $566 million in 2007.
“Farmers highly depend on this industry,” Paolicelli said. “Agritourism brings revenue to the farms that depend on wholesale or retail sales.”
For more information about agritourism in Orange County, visit the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau at wwwvisitchapelhill.org