A phone call initiated by a reader calling to voice agreement with a letter published on this page quickly evolved into a discussion about the agriculture industry in Pennsylvania and in the Valley in particular. The caller insisted The Daily Item feature agriculture more, highlighting the economic impact the industry has locally.

The call was, indeed, timely. A feature, published Monday, was already in production, content which focused on the little-known “agritourism” businesses which flourish in the Valley.

It serves as a reminder for all of us in the Susquehanna Valley that while we feature top-flight universities and medical facilities, a business which has thrived here for generations continues to succeed.

According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, agriculture has a total economic impact of nearly $70 billion annually. The commonwealth has 7.75 million acres of farmland and one in seven Pennsylvania jobs is related to the industry. The state ranks second in Christmas tree farms (nearly 1,600), fourth in apples, strawberries and pumpkins and fifth in produce like snap beans, maple syrup and peaches. Fortunately, our grocery stores’ shelves are filled with fresh produce often grown down the road.

Agriculture has always been, and will continue to be, a vital component to nearly every aspect of life in the Valley. Surprisingly, even tourism.

Agritourism refers to a growing trend around the world where visitors pursue “authentic experiences of agriculture.” To many, it would be an odd experience. However, there is obviously a real attraction to it. Ken and Sally Hassinger, owners of Mountain Dale Farm, an agritourism location in McClure, have hosted visitors from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, Russia and Japan and have had guests return several times. “We don’t make a ton of money,” Sally Hassinger said. “We enjoy it. And we love it when our guests want to come back.” Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said agritourism generates tens of millions of dollars for the state’s economy. The number rises significantly when you factor in the litany of community fairs in the Valley, most of which have an agricultural backbone.

This seemingly unknown tourism industry fits perfectly in the Valley. Owens Farm, outside of Sunbury, offers tours of its land, as does Shade Mountain Winery in Middleburg. Places like Ard’s Farm Market near Lewisburg and Pumpkinville in Riverside offer seasonal outlets, all built around an agrarian culture that is part of the Susquehanna Valley’s past, present and future.

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