The Washington County Board of Commissioners is in the midst of determining whether to allow agri-tourism opportunities to be expanded in the county, and if so, to what extent.

In general, and with some common sense limitations, we support allowing the county’s farmers, ranchers and vintners to use their land for activities beyond strictly growing crops and raising livestock.

Agri-tourism is generally defined as operations or activities related in some way to agriculture that bring visitors to farms or ranches. It can include everything from buying produce at a roadside stand to staying at a “bed and breakfast” on a farm. Other activities we could see more of in Washington County if an agri-tourism ordinance is approved would be tours by school groups, wine festivals, rodeos, concerts, corporate retreats and even petting zoos.

In essence, as the word suggests, agri-tourism is simply another form of tourism, geared to bringing sightseeing “city folk” from the metropolitan areas out to visit rural lands to do something fun or memorable.

We think it makes sense to allow a farmer with a beautiful meadow, for example, to be able to host the occasional wedding on his or her property, allow visitors to a pumpkin patch or host a lavender festival. Activities such as these would provide a new revenue stream for our area’s farmers, helping to keep their operations viable even in times when the agricultural sector of the economy may be suffering.

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck has it just right, we believe, when he says allowing expanded opportunities for agri-tourism in Washington County would not only help the area’s farmers, it would also be an excellent way to showcase some of the best aspects of what our county has to offer.

When the Oregon Legislature passed a bill in 2011 to allow agri-tourism and other commercial events in exclusive farm zones, legislators did so by wisely allowing each county within the state to set its own rules and regulations — or to decide not to allow it at all.

Washington County has taken a judicious approach, gathering information and reviewing how agri-tourism has been handled in neighboring counties, and is now preparing to make a decision. As part of the process, a draft ordinance has been made public, and, through March 21, the commissioners are inviting public comment.

Certainly, potentially serious snags are possible with increased commercial activities in rural areas, but county officials appear to be well aware of the pitfalls. And a well-crafted ordinance should be able to overcome those issues.

For instance, if a concert is planned, time limits could and should be placed on how late the performances could run. Parking could and should be restricted to the property where the concert is being held, to ensure roads are not jammed with parked cars. There would need to be limits on the number of events a farmland owner could hold in a given period of time, and the county would need to issue permits for proposed activities as a way to help regulate what goes on. Law enforcement would need to be aware of these events and make sure there is no abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Most of all, tourism-related activities must not be allowed to impede regular agricultural operations at a given site.

In Marion County, a variety of agri-tourism activities were allowed as of January 2013, and commissioners there have had nothing but positive things to say about how it has worked out to date. Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne explained that the resolution expanding agri-tourism activities in Marion County has fostered greater awareness of the importance of farming and agricultural businesses, and has demonstrated that the county is supporting its farmers and ranchers by helping to boost the farming sector economy.

If the ordinance the county is working on addresses the possible problems involved — and all indications are that the county is working on ways to do so — we believe an expansion of agri-tourism activities would be good for the county. It deserves to be approved.

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