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Agritourism offers unique options for travelers in Delaware

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Goat Yoga in Delaware Agritourism

Goat Yoga by Goat Joy brings travelers from all over to Harbeson in Sussex County, Delaware. l PHOTO COURTESY OF GOAT JOY

HARBESON Goat yoga was not on the radar for Ritter Farms in Harbeson – until Amanda Ritter brought Sweety the goat home from school. 

As a fifth-generation farmer, she was used to seeing various farming activities, but she really started exploring livestock through her school’s Future Farmers of America program. Years later, those experiences have helped shape agritourism in Sussex County.

Visitors now make special trips to their farm just to spend time with the family’s goat herd. 

“Who doesn’t love holding a baby goat,” Laura Ritter smiled as she spoke with the Delaware Business Times. “We have several irons in the fire here. Along with the farm, we have Goat Joy which started as a yoga fundraiser for Amanda’s undergrad sorority group. We kept getting calls after that asking if we’d do it again.”

With that, a new agritourism opportunity was born for the family. While locals tend to visit Goat Joy in the beginning of the summer season, tourists typically come out to sessions the rest of the time, Ritter said. 

“It’s really been a great thing for us. And it’s an educational thing. People who have never been on the farm get to come out, learn about farming goats and they see the grain bins and the tractors and equipment,” she added. “They usually learn more than they ever wanted to know about goat farming. But they have fun doing it.”

Through Goat Joy, the family also hosts goat socials which involves a less structured get together and time to bond with the goats and other guests. Private socials or yoga sessions are available as well.

Diversifying the farming operation to include agritourism helps financially sustain the operation, but not by much – it pays the feed bill to keep the herd growing strong. 

“It’s not just about that, though,” she said. “It socializes the animals and makes them easier to work with when they go over to the milking barn. And the only advertising I’ve had to do for this is a little on social media and then word of mouth. People will post the pictures and their friends and family will ask where they went to do that. You get your trickle down from doing that. It’s about awareness. It’s a win-win.” 

Ritter Farms and Goat Joy is just one of many farming operations across the state that have turned to agritourism to supplement business revenues. 

Delaware Tourism Director Jessica Welch said agritourism accounts for a growing part of the First State’s already vibrant tourism industry.

“We have a rich agricultural history in Delaware. It’s important for us to try to support those family farms,” she told DBT.

Larger farms such as Fifer’s Orchard in Camden and Loblolly Acres in Viola, both in Kent County, and Sussex County’s Lavender Fields in Milton tout success through yearly agritourism efforts, as well, offering a variety of activities such as U-Pick produce, special event venues and festivals. 

“Just like other attractions we promote, if we can have visitors that are supporting these agritourism attractions, it benefits the state as a whole,” Welch told DBT. 

Data from the 2017 Agricultural Census, composed by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Vermont, shows that 193 of Delaware’s 2,302 farms actively offer sales directly to consumers or agritourism activities. 

“I think a good example is Fifer’s and just seeing how much Fifer’s has been able to grow over the years. I like to think tourism has kind of helped them,” Welch said, adding that the orchard, which often teams up with Tre Sorelle Dolce Ice Cream & Italian Ice in Camden is also a great example of farming businesses that work well with other companies. 

“Our creameries, wineries and the like are really popular in the summertime. But so are our restaurants who source local ingredients. We found that we have 9.8 million overnight visitors in Delaware in 2022. Of those, 40% chose to eat at local or unique restaurants and I think that ties to the push to each local food and produce from the area,” Welch told DBT. 

For farmers like the Ritter family, the surge of support in the warmer months from tourists and the state is welcomed. 

“We’re just trying to figure out ways to make more on less acres,” Amanda Ritter told DBT. 

“It makes us happy and it makes our visitors happy. It’s fun and unique. We love doing it,” her mom Laura Ritter said. “I think it’s been really good. For me, I enjoy seeing the interactions. I had a mom bring an older daughter who had been depressed for months and the mom told me that it was the first time she saw her smile in months. Our goats can sense your mood and they give you what you need. It’s a really neat experience that we get to offer.”

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