BARCO, N.C. -- During a time where the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed tourism and travel and has hit local small businesses like farms and farmer’s markets, agritourism has helped businesses see a boost and travelers get their travel itch taken care of.
Harvest Hosts is one of those agriculture programs, working with over a thousand local farms, vineyards, distilleries and other small businesses across the United States and Canada.
"They want to experience small-town America,” Joel Holland, the CEO of Harvest Hosts, said. “They want to see the wineries, the breweries, the farms, the museums."
He said the members are recreational vehicle users, also know as RVs. They travel with their RVs or other similar vehicles, such as fifth wheels. Holland called RVing a safe and ideal way to take a road trip during the pandemic, as travelers would be mitigating contact with others as much as possible.
Holland also said the businesses have reaped the rewards of being part of the program, saying participating host businesses have seen a combined total of $24 million spent at the small businesses.
"The answer surprised me; The first answer was they enjoy the people they meet and the connections they make, and it's about the people,” Holland told News 3. “I thought was pretty phenomenal because the second answer was the one I expected, which was it really helps them monetarily, they're selling their products."
Morris Farm Market is one of the participating hosts, first joining the program roughly four years ago. It is one of several hosts participating with Harvest Hosts in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina.
Harvest Hosts provides a map showing the more than 1,000 hosts, but members need to pay the $79 annual fee to access that information. Members do not pay daily fees when staying at the host business's location, and a membership allows for unlimited visits at the participating location. Holland said members are encouraged to purchase goods from the host businesses to help sustain those businesses.
Morris Farm Market co-owner Ginger Morris told News 3 the farm is closed for the season, but its parking lot is open to allow passers-by to settle for the night on their travels. She added the program has brought business to the farm market.
"They make sure to support us. We don't ask for that, but it's definitely a polite thing for them to do,” Morris explained. "It definitely shows the character of Harvest Hosts. You can tell they instilled this in the people that are part of their program.”
The program is open to everyone, but travelers need to have an RV or other similar vehicle, such as a fifth wheel, that can provide visitors their own electricity, water and bathroom sources -- which have also seen increased demand as people look for pandemic-safe activities. It does not matter if the member owns or rents the RV.
Harvest Hosts also provides opportunities for small businesses to be a host at no charge. The program does require the small business to have a product that visitors can purchase and ample dedicated space where the visitors can park their RVs.
More information on the Harvest Hosts program for interested travelers and small businesses can be found by visiting the program’s website here.