Good Earth Market and Organic Farm lies on a sleepy stretch of Route 26 in tiny Clarksville, a jot of a town in rural Sussex County.
The Farm Adventure Trail put Good Earth on the map.
“We get a flurry of people every time a trail map goes out,” says co-owner Susan Ryan. “They just don’t go into our store. They go out into our fields, which makes us happy, too.”
Sponsored by the Delaware Agritourism Association, the trail is lined with farms and gardens that offer visitors such simple pleasures as summer corn, ice cream and a pink-nosed pig who likes to have his ears scratched.
Scott Thomas, executive director of the Southern Delaware Tourism, based in Georgetown, says the trail is designed to lead visitors off the beaten path. That’s especially important in western Sussex County, were small towns languish in summer while beach communities on the eastern shore are inundated with tourists.
The visitors’ bureau launched its Beaches Are Just the Beginning Campaign last year in order to broaden the region’s appeal.
“Southern Delaware is fortunate to have family farms and open space,” Thomas says. “Touring a farm is a stimulating side trip, as well as a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture.”
Ryan says the collective energy generated by the agritourism association has jumpstarted her business. Farm dinners at Good Earth are flourishing. She has booked four weddings so far this year.
“The weddings are tremendous in helping us to pay our farm expenses,” she says.
A combination of the words “agriculture” and “tourism,” agritourism was invented in the mid-1990s by enterprising farmers and ranchers who thought they could make money by introducing an element of entertainment to farming. In 2009, the industry generated revenues of $566 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On the Delaware trail, the mix of farms and tours changes with the seasons. Expect petting zoos and berry picking in spring and summer and corn mazes and hayrides in fall.
The model was inspired by a successful campaign in Maryland, as well as the First State’s own Wine & Ale Trail, says Dan Shortridge, chief of community relations for the Delaware Department of Agriculture.
Announced in April, the Farm Adventure Trail runs throughout June, July and August in all three counties with a total of 15 agriculture-oriented venues.
“They aren’t competing, but working collaboratively,” Shortridge says. “Since they are (located) in different areas, they cater to different clientele and offer different activities.”
In New Castle County, destinations include Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin, where ice cream is made from milk produced by the dairy’s Jersey cows, and Filasky’s Produce in Middletown. In Kent County, kids can pet hedgehogs, burros, a pink-nosed pig and other animals at Loblolly Acres, located just outside Dover. In Sussex County, visitors can sip at Fenwick Wine Cellars or luxuriate in fragrant plots at Lavender Fields in Milton, where the gift shop is stocked with locally produced soaps, jams and relaxation pillows.
“People love to come to farms,” Ryan says, “but it’s up to us to make it accessible by telling visitors how to find us.”