Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch

If you’ve ever picked your own apples or bumped along on a hayride, you’ve taken part in agritourism.

But the concept has grown up as more people want to learn about their food. That’s led to local-food meals served in the middle of sunflower fields and classes on making cheese from goat milk.

No matter what form it takes, agritourism is growing in Ohio, said Julie Fox, a direct-marketing specialist at OSU Extension. More farmers are inviting consumers to buy baskets of seasonal produce, help make maple syrup or learn how to can fruits and vegetables.

“People want unique food experiences,” said Fox, who leads a statewide team that is beginning to collect marketing and agritourism data. Close proximity to farms also is fueling agritourism growth.

In Ohio, farm income from agritourism and recreational services more than doubled to nearly $5 million in 2007 from $2.2 million in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s five-year farm census. Agritourism grew to 2.1 percent of farm income in 2007 from 1.4 percent in 2002.

It took Val Jorgensen a long time to accept the “tourism” aspect of agritourism. “This is definitely not Disney World,” Jorgensen said about her 65-acre Jorgensen Farms in Westerville, which she sees more as an education hub than a tourist trap.

“What I want to share with people is what real food is,” said Jorgensen, who grew up on a Michigan dairy farm.

Jorgensen raises sheep, which provide wool, pelts and meat. She keeps bees. She grows fruits, vegetables and herbs and sells them to local food companies and restaurants. But hosting events from school tours to organization dinners to weddings “does balance the budget,” she said.

Her Sunday Supper series features seasonal produce and meats grown on her farm or other farms just outside of Columbus.

“I want to provide a place for people to be nourished,” said Jorgensen, who sees herself as a steward, not an owner, of the land. “It warms my heart and soul to see people come out to the farm.”