Thurston County Commissioners this week voted to amend the county code to include an Agritourism Overlay District. This change to county zoning will allow farmers and ranchers in the rural areas to better pursue tourist related activities on their lands.
In establishing the district, commissioners had a couple of goals in mind-
- To create rural agricultural economic development opportunities for areas furthest from the urban markets.
- To provide year round economic incentives for farmers.
Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, who sponsored the ordinance, says Thurston County has unique characteristics that can bring tourists to this area. She says more and more people, who want to buy locally, will know that their food is healthy and can experience what is behind food production. "The Agritourism District encourages activities including: farmers markets, picking fruits and vegetables, farm stays, tasting honey, learning about wine and cheesemaking, or shopping in farm gift shops and farm stands for local hand-grown and hand-crafted goods. This gives local farmers a way to share their agricultural heritage with others, and to earn extra income during the process."
Among other things, the ordinance will reduce regulatory barriers, streamline permitting and help to guide and encourage future development of agritourism operations within the overlay district. The ordinance covers activities including farmers markets, overnight farm stays, farm stores and bakeries, country inns, wineries, breweries and other endeavors.
The Agritourism Overlay District was established after a two year extensive and inclusive public input process. The county's working group that looked into the issue included representatives from farms, wineries, the Economic Development Council, Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Port of Olympia, local farmers markets, and others. -30-