New Jersey farms are well into agritourism this fall, with hay rides and pumpkin picking the order of the day on most farms. But it is much more than just a fun and educational exercise for visitors.

Ed Wengryn, a research associate for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, defines agritourism as a many-faceted and lucrative endeavor.

"From simple roadside markets, come pick up fruits and vegetables. They may sell eggs and chickens, and you can see the animals and you get to visit and walk around the farm and go out and pick your own vegetables."

Wengryn says agritourism is a critical part of New Jersey's agriculture.

"We live in the most densely-populated state. So we have a great opportunity for farms that are marketing our products, to market their products directly to the consumer."

It is estimated that agritourism generates as much as $80 million dollars annually for the state's agriculture industry, the third-largest industry in New Jersey.

Morris County farmer Kurt Alstede adds that beyond the benefits for the industry, "it is great for the state because there is a tremendous amount of sales tax revenue generated."

Alstede, the general manager of Alstede Farms in Chester, says agritourism represents more than half of his annual gross revenue.

"When we told taxpayers that there is a value to maintaining beautiful farms in the Garden State and it is worth investing your tax dollars to maintain a base, they said, 'Yeah, we agree.' And now, decades later, we have these gorgeous farms that are open and available, that people can access and visit, and not only secure and purchase locally-produced fruits and vegetables, but also enjoy the farm itself, which we find is attractive to families from every cultural and ethnic background."

Wengryn says New Jersey's wineries are also part of that agritourism mix.

"As you come out to a winery, you can do a tasting of grapes and fruits. Different activities that wineries do, include pruning the vines in the wintertime, helping participate in the harvest activity at a winery, learning how the grapes are crushed and actually sampling some of your own wines through those activities."

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Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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