Agritourism at the Rural-Urban Interface: A National Overview of Legal Issues with 20 Proposals for Idaho

184 Pages Posted: 11 May 2014 Last revised: 20 May 2014

See all articles by Stephen R. Miller

Stephen R. Miller

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise

Date Written: May 9, 2014


“Agriculture” is facing a challenging moment of definition as an increasingly urbanized population seeks more ways to engage authentically with rural places and small- and mid-sized farms increasingly need non-farm income to survive. At the confluence of these trends is the rise of “agritourism,” a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of activities redefining the rural landscape, and in particular, the landscape of rural places at the edge of urban development. This report of the University of Idaho Economic Development Clinic investigates these trends.

Key action items from the report are presented in the executive summary as 20 proposals for growing agritourism in Idaho, which would also apply to most other states.

Section III of the report investigates the breadth of what agritourism entails. This section does so by reviewing 17 definitions of agritourism from the social sciences.

Section IV provides local governments four model agritourism ordinances to review in considering how to draft their own agritourism ordinances. The text of the report reviews ordinances from Weber County, Utah; Tehama County, California; Lawrence County, South Dakota; and Thurston County, Washington. In addition, the text of these ordinances, as well as additional materials related to agritourism ordinance administration and enforcement from these counties is included in an appendix.

Section V reviews the case for agritourism at the rural-urban interface. This section does so by reviewing the status of American rural economies; why small- and mid-sized farms need additional non-farm revenue to survive; how agritourism activities can lead to farmer retention; and how the food movement is helping to drive the growing agritourism movement.

Section VI provides a detailed review of key legal issues arising in agritourism. First, this section investigates how ambiguity in definitions of “agriculture” in federal statutes, Idaho statutes, and Idaho county codes cause uncertainty — and potentially litigation traps — for agritourism operators. In addition, this section is supplemented by another appendix, which provides the text of all Idaho county code definitions of “agriculture” that the Clinic’s research could obtain. Second, this section conducts a review of state statutes addressing agritourism and highlights their salient features, which typically include a limited liability provision and, in some cases, much more. Third, this section reviews right to farm acts nationally and whether they apply — or should apply — to agritourism. Fourth, this section investigates how local governments can zone agricultural areas to encourage agritourism uses. Fifth, this section reviews how building codes can be an impediment to agricultural uses converting to agritourism uses, and seeks to offer several potential solutions.

Section VII then turns to legal frameworks for marketing agritourism. First, this section reviews federal funding options arising from the Agricultural Act of 2014. Second, this section reviews state-operated funds that are used to market agritourism. Third, this section reviews agricultural promotion districts, a statutorily-enabled entity similar to an urban business improvement district, used by Texas to permit local farmers to assess themselves a fee in order to promote their agricultural and agritourism products. Fourth, this section reviews whether Idaho’s agricultural marketing cooperatives apply to agritourism uses.

Section VIII reviews legal challenges to providing agritourism signage on state and federal highways and provides examples of how to overcome such challenges.

Section IX provides a review of current trends in agritourism and “food freedom” legislation.

Section X provides concluding remarks.

Keywords: agritourism, agriculture, land use, economic development, local government

Suggested Citation

Miller, Stephen R., Agritourism at the Rural-Urban Interface: A National Overview of Legal Issues with 20 Proposals for Idaho (May 9, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen R. Miller (Contact Author)

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise ( email )

514 W. Jefferson St
Boise, ID 83702
United States
208-364-4559 (Phone)
208-344-2176 (Fax)

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