Agri-Tourism in Dickson County, TN
When Dickson County farmer Steve Shafer told his wife he wanted to turn their Three Creeks Farm into a tourist destination‚ she was skeptical.
“My reaction‚” says Beth Collier‚ “was‚ ‘Yeah right‚ who’s going to pay to go to a farm?’”
But after hearing more‚ Collier was convinced‚ and in 2005‚ the couple began offering tours of their 56-acre farm seven miles north of Dickson.
At Three Creeks Farm‚ visitors can touch and feed the animals‚ which include exhibition chickens and pheasants‚ Cashmere goats and registered Icelandic and Shetland sheep.
They also can learn about blacksmithing‚ demonstrated by Shafer‚ and spinning‚ demonstrated by Collier. During such heritage tours‚ the couple dresses in 19th-century costumes and allows visitors to hammer on the forge or spin with a hand spindle.
“We want to be as hands-on as possible‚” Shafer says.
Shafer and Collier quickly learned that people want souvenirs from their visits. Through a state agri-tourism grant‚ their farm added a gift shop with spinning equipment and hand-forged ironwork‚ and a greenhouse with flowers‚ herbs and dye plants.
The modern world may be losing touch with rural life‚ but in Dickson County‚ some farmers are reframing their properties as public attractions so visitors can experience the sights‚ sounds and scents of farm life – from the delicate fuzz of baby chicks to the sweetness of self-picked berries.
“When you talk about agri-tourism‚ you’re talking about farmers markets‚ pumpkin patches‚ corn mazes and farm tours‚” says Rhonda Adams‚ tourism director for the Dickson County Chamber of Commerce‚ which promotes a variety of county attractions.
Dickson County Farmers Market
One of the most popular agri-tourist attractions is Dickson County’s Farmers Market‚ which runs from May until October. The market features a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The market, which started in 2005, is located behind the Dickson County Public Library.
“So many farmers – people who live off the land – home school their children‚” Adams says. “Having the farmers market at the public library is a gift to them because their children can be educated while they make some money.”
Dickson County is home to about 1‚450 farms‚ with most raising beef cattle and tobacco. But as the need for tobacco crops decrease‚ farmers have found innovative ways to salvage the family farm‚ says Jeff Smith‚ the county’s University of Tennessee extension agent.
For now‚ only a few farms participate in agri-tourism‚ Smith says‚ but interest is growing.
“When you have people who have a job in Nashville and want to live the country life and raise their kids in a better environment‚” he says‚ “they end up in Dickson County.”
From Tennessee’s governor on down‚ agri-tourism is gaining support as an economic development tool.
Flippen's Hillbilly Barn & Fruit Farm
Flippen’s Hillbilly Barn & Fruit Farm in West Tennessee is an example of the industry’s potential‚ Adams says. When faced in 1984 with a damaged peach crop‚ the family started selling homemade fried peach pies‚ which are now the backbone of the business.
“You may start your business out as a farm tour‚” Adams says‚ “[but then you] realize that the sheep’s wool that you’re spinning or the eggs that you let visitors pick will turn your farm into a very profitable business.”
“I see it not only as an opportunity to help the farmers increase their revenue‚ but to educate kids like my own. I have four boys‚ and they have no clue how my grandparents were raised‚ how they had to pick their tomatoes just to get by.”
Read more on Dickson, TN agriculture.