Fans of the series “The Office” may remember the episode “Money” which shows Jim and Pam’s first visit to Schrute Farm, a working beet farm fictionally set in northern Pennsylvania. Dwight describes how Schrute Farm is open to visitors as it offers certain on-farm activities and experiences, including beet wine making, manure spreading, tours of the fields and barns, Cousin Mose’s table making demonstration, overnight stays in one of the three themed rooms (i.e., America, Irrigation and Nighttime), and of course, use of the outhouse. Dwight goes on to explain that “Agritourism is a lot more than a bed and breakfast. It consists of tourists coming to a farm. Showing them around. Giving them a bed. Giving them breakfast.”
Traditionally, in addition to farming operations, farmers have supplemented their income by operating other farm-related businesses. Usually, these businesses include retail sales of their products and goods, and related services.
But in recent years, more and more farmers have begun opening their working farms to visitors by offering a variety of on-farm experiences and activities not unlike those offered at Schrute Farm. Commonly known as “agritourism” (or “agritainment”), these on-farm experiences and activities may include farm visits, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, U-Pick operations, community supported agriculture, Christmas tree farms, petting farms, farmers stands/markets, creameries, dairies, bakeries, restaurants/cafes, wineries, breweries, cideries, distilleries, overnight accommodations, museums and events centers.
Depending on the specific uses and activities, agritourism facilities may be subject to a myriad of local, state or federal regulations, including zoning or building codes. Although not specifically related to zoning or building codes, the Commonwealth passed the Agritourism Activity Protection Act No. 27 of 2021 (AAPA) in June 2021.
The AAPA seeks to support farmers and promote agritourism activities in Pennsylvania by expressly providing for limited civil liability for agritourism activity providers. The AAPA defines an agritourism activity as a “farm-related tourism or farm-related entertainment activity that takes place on agricultural land and allows members of the general public, whether or not for a fee, to tour, explore, observe, learn about, participate in or be entertained by an aspect of agricultural production, harvesting, husbandry or rural lifestyle that occurs on the farm.”
Generally, the AAPA provides limited civil liability to a provider of an agritourism activity that is operated so as not to create an imminent and substantial risk of injury or damages to any participant, after the provider: (i) properly posts required warning signage; and (ii) enters into a written agreement with said participant. The written agreement must include warning language set forth in the AAPA, whereby the participant acknowledges: (i) the provider is not liable for any injury to or death of a participant; and (ii) that he or she accepts all risks of injury, death, property damage and other loss, resulting from the agritourism activity. The AAPA also permits agritourism activity providers to print substantially the same required agreement and warning language on participants’ tickets that are required to gain access to the agritourism activities.
Although neither the AAPA nor the term “agritourism activity” expressly excludes overnight accommodations, wedding events, concerts or food and beverage services as permitted types of agritourism activities, it is important to note that the limited civil liability afforded by the AAPA does not extend to those four specific activities.
What does all of this mean for local planning and zoning officials planning for and permitting agritourism in their communities? Frankly, not much. Except that the AAPA does provide an inclusive definition of “agricultural activity” that local officials may consider incorporating into their planning documents and zoning ordinances.
If you have any questions regarding the implementation of the AAPA or permitting associated with agritourism activities, please feel free to contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group.