ATLANTA, September 28, 2016 – Agritourism is the growing niche travel market that involves visiting a destination for the purpose of learning about the foods that are indigenous to that place – from cocao in Ecuador to Pecans in Georgia – that we eventually eat.
While it includes plenty of eating, at its heart, its not just sampling regional fare – agritourism means seeking out and following the process from harvesting to consumption.
Because we have seen an increase in unhealthy, processed foods to suit our fast-paced lives, leading to a quest of knowledge as to where our food comes from. Educators and parents have become especially interested in teaching children to appreciate food and farm visits are an important part of this.
For example, cacao chocolate is one of the world’s best chocolate. This starts with gathering seeds from pods grown on tree. From that cacao seed, it is a long process to the delicious chocolate we unwrap from fancy packaging.
A culinary tour educates consumer on this bean to bar process and in turn helps us appreciate where our foods come from and gain and understanding of why the cost of a fresh 100% cacao harvested bar is far more delicious, and higher priced, than a typical candy bar.
Who would like Agritourism?
Though anyone can enjoy agritourism, it is probably best suited for adults that have a passion for cooking and love the flavors of other countries. But your first venture as an adult traveler, or a family unit, could be as simple as venturing to a nearby farm to see the process of growing or raising, harvesting and processing of the foods you place on your dinner table.
Or it can be as complex as visiting another country and immersing yourself in local foods – both eating and preparation or traveling into remote jungles to discover where our favorite treat comes from or to cook a meal open flame with locals farmers.
Knowing where food comes from, and how it is prepared without the assistance of prepackaged food, is an important part of our food journey.
Two Agritourism Trips: Near and Far
Pearson Farms: Pecans
Any nut lover will agree that pecans are mighty tasty. About an hour and a half south of Atlanta is Pearson Farm, producing quality pecans for over a century.
Fifth generation owner, Al Pearson and his wife Mary own and operate the farm today.
Pecan season is rather short, lasting just about two months. However, we were able to see the process of the shaking of the trees to loosen the pecans. A visit involved trying to crack one yourself – not necessarily an easy task as the hard shell is designed to protect the seed inside.
Next up is the sorting process into different grade quality. Sampling an inferior store brand vs. the quality of Pearson pecans is incredible – there’s just no comparison.
Pearson Farm sorting facility
Ecuador: Cacao Chocolate
Another agritour is to South America to get an understanding of how the decadent Cacao chocolate makes its way from bean to bar. It’s a relatively short trip (less than 5 hours direct flight from the Southeastern US to Quito, Ecuador).
From there, it’s a 3-4 hour drive to the Amazon, where the Chokras, or family owned farms are.
The Chokras have been in families for generations and produce a variety of items, not just the cocoa beans, allowing families to live off of the land. As we walk deeper into the plantation we see many different herbs, fruits and vegetables – lemongrass, pineapple and yucca.
Coming upon a bright yellow cocoa pod slicing it open reveals a white, slimy pulp around the seeds. It’s almost incomprehensible that chocolate comes from this seed.
The process is far from over at this point. The pulp-like liquid must be removed, the beans must then be fermented, much like wine, which is how the flavor develops.
Then the beans must then be dried for a full week. Some are dried in large tents, but they are moving towards more solar power for the drying process as well. Then a roasting process separates the shell from the seeds.
At this point, they are ready to be mixed with other ingredients and made into chocolate.
Seeing the care and attention to detail that is involved in the process of procuring and harvesting different foods gives a deeper appreciation for the various foods we eat daily. It also offers insight into different cultures and is a reason agritourism is becoming so fruitful.