We have a guest post from a tourism student researcher. Thanks Lauren for your commitment to agritourism! We hope you enjoy reading about Lauren’s study.
My name is Lauren Howe and I am an American student studying with the School for International Training (SIT)’s Sustainability and Environmental Action Program based in Byron Bay, NSW. As part of my program, I undertook a five-week independent study project for which I researched farm tourism in Australia.
As farms across Australia look to expand their income streams, many have turned to tourism as a viable and auxiliary funding source. For many of these farms, the necessary infrastructure for such an expansion already exists, as does the consumer demand. Farmers looking to transform their businesses to include tourism, however, should keep in mind the ecological impact of their endeavors. In this case, ecotourism or low-impact nature tourism offers many ‘best practice’ principles, which may be used to guide farm tourism in the future. Using these ecotourism principles as a guide, I investigated how eco-friendly farmstays actually are. This examination involved sending out 124 surveys nationally (and only receiving 19 completed ones back), interviewing four farmstay operators in the Northern Rivers region of NSW and two ecotourism-certified ‘best practice’ farmstays, and doing content analysis of 134 farmstay websites and online listings.
My study results reveal that although few farmstays actually market themselves as eco-friendly, many currently uphold environmentally sound practices. This may come in the form of land and wildlife conservation and/or re-vegetation. For instance, some farmstays in the Northern Rivers are working with local land care groups on rainforest and bush regeneration on their properties. Renewable energy in the form of solar is popular and many farmstays have invested in energy efficient appliances. I’ve seen farmstay cottages with solar panels on their roofs and individual rainwater tanks for water catchment and recycling. Moreover, most farmstays exhibit proper waste disposal habits, from recycling to composting in the form of worm farms and feeding food scraps to chooks. Sustainable agriculture is widespread and includes practices of organic farming, permaculture, aquaponics, integrated pest management, paddock rotation, and low-intensity animal husbandry. Many farmstays also make efforts to source food, household goods, and farm equipment locally.
The primary shortcoming of the farmstay industry, however, is the lack of acknowledgement given to Aboriginals/traditional landowners. ‘Respect the sensitivities of other cultures’ is one of the principles included in the Ecotourism Association of Australia’s Code of Practice and is that which could be improved the most. This could come in the form of consulting with local Elders, verbalizing an informal Aboriginal ‘welcome’ to guests, or simply posting a sign on the farm property.
My study results also indicate that few ecologically sound farmstays have invested the time and funds to become officially certified through Ecotourism Australia. Despite the lack of official certification, it is very possible for farmstays to engage in environmentally and socially sustainable practices, as exemplified by farmers in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.
So next time you are booking your holiday accommodation, think about staying at an eco-friendly farmstay. You can help support a local farm business and reduce the environmental impact of your travels! And in the mean time, check out these eco-conscious accommodations in the Northern Rivers: Byron Bay Farmstay, Mooyabil Farm Holidays in Mullumbimby, Imogen’s Farmstay in Whian Whian, and the Shed Bed and Breakfast in Dunoon.