BERLIN – A bill allowing family farmers in Worcester to diversity and take advantage of the growing agritourism market breezed through a Senate committee last week and is on its way to the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 32, pre-filed by State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), received a favorable vote from the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee last week. The bill has been cross-filed in the House by Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C). If passed, the legislation would add Worcester County to the list of 18 other jurisdictions around the state in which farm structures used for the growing agritourism industry would be exempt from certain building code requirements.
As the name implies, agritourism includes any activity that links traditional agriculture production to tourism and draws visitors onto a farm, such as corn mazes, pumpkin patches, barn weddings or winery tastings, for example. During a hearing before the Senate committee late last month, Carozza explained the intent of the legislation.
“This bill simply adds Worcester County to the list of jurisdictions in which farm structures used for agritourism activities are exempt from certain requirements generally applied to a commercial building,” she said. “I am amending the bill with a start date moved from October to June so we can maximize the summer season.”
Specifically, the legislation would exempt an agricultural building from obtaining a change of occupancy permit if the building used for agritourism does not require it to be occupied by more than 200 people at any one time.
“Many of you have enjoyed the beautiful farm landscape driving east along Route 50 on your way to Ocean City or driving south on Route 113 from the Delaware line into Worcester County, giving you a glimpse of the many multi-generational family farms in my district,” Carozza said. “This legislation is a win-win for both the farm families who may need to diversify and pull in additional revenue just to keep the farm, and win for the tourists who will have more options to explore and experience our local farms.”
Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell also testified at the Senate committee hearing.
“Family farms are the heart of rural life in Worcester County,” she said. “Thanks to the birth of the agritourism market, family farms are also a key component for Worcester County’s tourism branding … Today, the economic picture for many farm families is growing brighter. Today, farmers are granted more flexibility to incorporate new and innovative agricultural activities that complement existing agricultural uses, assuring the land will remain economically viable.”
Kevin Atticks of the Maryland Wineries Association also testified.
“Of all the words that have been spoken by the Senator and the Commissioner, I will add one thing,” he said. “There is a focus on value-added agriculture and out of all of the value-added agricultural activities and the many segments, agritourism is the fastest growing. It helps to represent that $875 million in direct impact goes to the state from value-added agriculture.”
Worcester County Office of Tourism and Economic Development Director Melanie Pursel said the bill would complement local efforts.
“It is very timely for us,” she said. “One of the things I did want to mention is here locally, the Worcester County Commissioners have supported local code amendments and changes to make it a little easier for these businesses to diversify their standard operations. We’re working here locally with it and we’re also looking at some other things statewide.”