Hermann focuses on agritourism to boost economy

It is an early Friday morning in the small town of Hermann, Missouri. Business owners are putting the finishing touches on their wineries, shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. It was time for the weekend, and there were only two hours until the first Amtrak Train came in, bearing the first load of tourists from the filler cities of St. Louis and Kansas City. The majority of the week’s income would be earned over the next three days, as the business owners demonstrate how rural America life can be as fascinating and fulfilling as life in the larger cities.

“It seems like there is always something going on in Hermann,” said Tammy Bruckerhoff, Hermann director of Tourism and Economic Development and owner of a local candy store, Sugar Mommas. “There are events in town on [both] weekdays and weekends. There is always something going on in the many wineries, Fernweh Distilling Company, Hogs Head Cigars and Uncolored Wine Bar all [have things for tourists to do year-round].”

Hermann has been a tourist attraction for over 60 years, and the town is working to expand and give the younger generations something to come back to after college. While agritourism is not the first thing people think about when discussing how to retain the city’s youth, it is slowly working its way into the conversation in more non-traditional forms.

According to the USDA, agritourism is “a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors and generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.”

Hermann’s economy relies on different forms of ‘non-traditional agritourism’ such as viticulture, bed and breakfasts, rural wedding destinations, breweries, bird hunting farms, and farmers markets.

“People come from all over to visit our Christmas tree farm and the Hermann area,” said Jessica Rood, part of the family-run Pea Ridge Forest located minutes from Hermann’s city limits. “People come here to make memories by cutting down their own Christmas tree, but leave here with a better understanding of how these trees are grown and raised from the time it was a sapling to the time it is over six feet tall. On top of that, we get to show them how to make wreathes or maple syrup.”

Of the different attractions, Hermann is most well-known for its grapes and winemaking going back to the days before Prohibition. Since then, they have acquired dozens of well-known wineries, such as Stone Hill Winery, Adam Puchta Winery (the oldest consecutively family owned winery in the United States), Hermannhoff Winery and various others.

When visitors come to the many wineries, they are able to see how the viticulture process works and can actually walk in the field and talk to producers. People can also go to places such as Fernweh Distillery and watch how they take grain and turn it into whiskey and other beverages.

“Hermann is constantly growing,” Bruckerhoff said. “The wineries that have kept records of how many people walk through their doors have reported that the month of September [2018] has been their best since 2010.”

In order to keep Hermann growing, entrepreneurs are looking for ways to help fund their business ventures. For some businesses in the surrounding areas of Hermann, USDA and Missouri Department of Agriculture agritourism loans have been an instrumental part in starting their businesses.

For the Giofre Apiaries Honey Ice Cream and Hummingbird Kitchens, loans from the Missouri Department of Agriculture made their dream business ventures a reality.

Giofre Apiaries Honey Ice Cream is made from honey made in local hives and is sold not only in the Hermann area, but across the state of Missouri. Hummingbird Kitchens is both an alpaca farm and a specialty bakery that provides pastries and baked goods to local shops. Both of these businesses got their start from agritourism loans from the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA that are specifically targeted toward helping fund agritourism related businesses.

“[The loan] pays for 50 percent of working expenses, like employees’ wages, or flavors [for the ice cream],” said Nancy Giofre, owner and operator of Giofre Apiaries. “It was for $225,000, and we are still using it. It hasn’t run out. We got [the loan] back in 2016 and it will run out in 2019 or if we spend it all before then.”

Through these loans, businesses are not only helping themselves, but other businesses they sell their products to. Giofre Apiaries sells its honey ice cream to Bruckerhoff’s candy store, Sugar Mommas. Hummingbird Kitchens sells its array of products to Hermann stores such as Espresso Laine and Uncolored Wine Bar.

With these loans, Bruckerhoff hopes to see more young individuals with hopes of starting and maintaining a life in a community like Herman

“We hope that we can get young people to work in our local businesses to have a better understanding of the opportunity for entrepreneurs,” Bruckerhoff said.  “For them to realize if they are willing to take a leap of faith, that if they have an idea, that they can probably make it happen in the Hermann region.”