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Proposed bill aims to advance agritourism, spur rural jobs

The legislation would be the first of its kind in Canada to help remove barriers to investment in the agritourism sector
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As Ontario farmers offer more agritourism opportunities, more people are leaving the city to experience all that farm life has to offer.  

In an effort to mitigate some of the risks associated with agritourism operations on farms across the province, Perth-Wellington MPP Matthew Rae tabled the Growing Agritourism Act last month.

If passed, Rae said the proposed legislation could help to remove barriers to investment, provide consistency across Ontario’s agritourism providers, and ensure participants are aware of the inherent risks associated with farm activities.

“We want to encourage individuals from cities to enter our rural communities, but they need to understand some of the inherent risks,” Rae said.

“This bill will help to mitigate some risks, make people who visit those locations aware of uneven ground, for example, which is just part of a normal farm practice. There’s also the presence of animals and some places have bee hives on their properties.”

Rae said, the proposed bill will help to ensure everyone is safe and encourage more farm operators to get into the great field of agritourism.

“There are plenty of agritourism operators in Wellington County whether that's Mapleton Organic, who’s more established, or newer ones like Applebottom Orchard near Palmerston that opened it’s gates just last year,” Rae said.

Agritourism provides opportunities to diversify farm income and raise awareness of the farm and agriculture sector with urban visitors.

Growing up on his family’s dairy farm just north of Harriston, Rae said he understands the challenges farm operators in the province face today and how growing agritourism opportunities have much to offer.

“Some of my friends that I went to high school with have opened agritourism operations in our part of the world,” he said.

“I've heard from people across the sector, such as Farm Fresh Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. When there are individuals from cities entering our rural communities, which we want to encourage, they need to understand some of the inherent risks on an operated farm,” Rae said.

In 2022, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture conducted a local food and agritourism survey. At least 40 per cent of respondents suggested they would sell products including baked goods, preserves and prepared meals, as well as offer on-farm experiences. 

“Agritourism can be quite diverse. It could be a culinary experience, or pick your own,” Rae said. “But also telling from that same survey, 38 per cent of the respondents said they would consider offering some sort of agritourism aspect.”

Rae believes this proves the demand for more agritourism opportunities.

“The benefit of this is people come from urban centres to our rural communities,” he said. “They learn where our food comes from. They can literally have the 'field to fork' experience and understand the importance of our agricultural communities.”

The legislation would be the first of its kind to help remove barriers to investment in the agritourism sector in the province.

The bill proposal has passed a second reading and is now referred to the Standing Committee on the Interior.

“I’m really appreciative of the support I’ve received from local farm operators and operators across the province,” Rae said.

“If it does pass third reading and reach royal assent, it will be the first legislation of its kind in Canada. I think it is very unique, especially for Ontario to be leading the way on this very important issue.”

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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