By Sarah Everhart
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According to the 2012 agricultural census completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were 307 agritourism farms in Maryland with revenues of $7.3 million. Maryland farm operators who want to incorporate agritourism into their farming operations face a variety of challenges including increased liability exposure, health code permitting, and zoning. Maryland’s counties have struggled with how to define agritourism and where it should be permitted. Thanks to legislation passed during the 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session, however, counties, and by extension, agritourism operators, may get some assistance in the form of a definition of agritourism written into the Maryland Code. For more information about the challenges agritourism operators face and some potential solutions, check out this presentation from the 2016 ALEI Agriculture and Environmental Law Conference.
In 2015 a Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission on Agriculture (GICA) developed a suggested definition of “agritourism” to guide counties and local zoning and permitting agencies dealing with agricultural operations. The GICA workgroup defined agritourism as “a series of activities conducted on a farm and offered to the public or to invited groups for the purpose of education, recreation, or active involvement in the farm operation. These activities may include, but are not limited to, farm tours, hayrides, corn mazes, seasonal petting farms, farm museums, guest farm, pumpkin patches, ’pick your own’ or ’cut your own’ produce, classes related to agricultural products or skills, and picnic and party facilities offered in conjunction with the above.” Unfortunately, as discussed at the 2016 ALEI Agriculture and Environmental Law Conference, Maryland counties did not uniformly adopt the GICA definition and the confusion surrounding permitted zoning for agritourism has continued.
The recently passed legislation is awaiting the Governor’s signature. Assuming it is finalized, the legislation will go into effect October 1, 2018, amending the Land Use Article of the Maryland Code to include a definition of agritourism almost identical to the GICA’s definition. The new section of the Land Use Article, Section 4-211, defines agritourism as “an activity conducted on a farm that is offered to a member of the general public or to invited guests for the purpose of education, recreation, or active involvement in the farm operation.” Additionally, just like in the GICA’s definition, activities included within the definition of Agritourism are also defined and include: “(i) farm tours; (ii) hayrides; (iii) corn mazes; (iv) seasonal petting farms; (v) farm museums; (vi) guest farms; (vii) pumpkin patches; (viii) ’pick your own’ or ’cut your own’ produce; (ix) classes related to agricultural products or skills; and (x) picnic and party facilities offered in conjunction with any agritourism activity.”
Although because of this legislative change, a definition for agritourism will be in the Land Use Article, counties will still need to adopt the definition by ordinance, resolution, or rule and include agritourism as a use permitted in certain zones within the jurisdiction. Agritourism operators who need clarity or guidance should ask their county planning commissions to adopt this definition and move forward with the necessary zoning changes. To learn more about understanding and participating in the local planning and zoning process, check out this ALEI video.