UMaine Extension professor recognized for multi-state collaboration in agritourism

Headshot of Jason EntsmingerOrono, Maine — Jason Entsminger, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Maine Business School and Extension small business specialist, was recognized today as part of a multi-state team that received a 2024 Partnership Award from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). 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 carried about by collaborative members include first-of-their-kind 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 University of Maine 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 2019 survey was led by Lisa Chase of the University of Vermont and helped spur the Collaborative. 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. In 2024, Claudia Schmidt of Penn State University and collaborative member is leading an update to the survey. Responses from Maine farms will be used to create a state-specific factsheet to improve understanding of agritourism in a state that relies on the economic impacts of both tourism and agriculture.

According to data from the latest Census on Agriculture conducted by 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, or $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 US, spawning similar efforts in Brazil and Italy and the creation of the International Research Network on Agritourism (IRENA). The Collaborative was led by the University of Vermont and consisted of members from 11 land-grant universities from Maine to California and two tourism organizations including the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension:

As a trusted resource for over 100 years, Extension has supported UMaine’s land and sea grant public education role by conducting community-driven, research-based programs in every Maine county. Extension seeks to build thriving communities and grow the food-based economy, focusing on aspects from production and processing to nutrition, food safety and food security. Extension also conducts the most successful out-of-school youth educational program in Maine through 4-H which offers hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and civic engagement and creates a positive environment where participants are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles.