On Sam Carr Road in Laurelville, there’s a sign that’s proven to make some vehicles slow down to get a better look.
A black Bigfoot carries a small, pale sign, emblazoned with the website address “HOCKINGHILLSCBD.COM.”
Hocking Hills CBD is the newest business venture from Eric and Brenda Schmidt, who own Laurel Springs Farm. Their property lies just a few turns away from the eye-catching sign down the road.
The Schmidts got into CBD products as a way to manage Brenda Schmidt’s arthritis pain. The couple dreams of soon opening a greenhouse on their 72-acre farm, allowing them to grow their own hemp on-site and further expand Hocking Hills CBD.
“I would probably find that fun,” Eric Schmidt says with a smile.
And just as the Schmidts’ business ventures are expanding, so is the emphasis on agritourism across Appalachia.
In The Hocking Hills, Agritourism Blossoms
Agritourism is any relationship between tourism and the agricultural community, Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, says. That relationship can include anything from petting zoos to farms like Laurel Springs and much more.
“I think what we have in Southeast Ohio is this very authentic Appalachian culture, and so much of that is grounded in agriculture,” Raymore says.
Eric and Brenda Schmidt strive to offer a relaxing, private experience to all who visit Laurel Springs Farm. There is one cabin available for rental as of February: The Cabin on the Hill. The cabin stands two stories tall, with one made of stone and the other the original wooden cabin frame built by a young Amish couple. On the inside, old tools from the farm’s two barns hang on the walls, and large, red leaves dot the paper floor.
Renters of the cabin can find additional living space upstairs, including a balcony overlooking the property. During the warmer months, guests can relax on a large wooden swing and watch the sun dip below the hills.
“It’s just beautiful,” Brenda Schmidt says. “You just watch it all summer long.”
Laurel Springs Farm also offers opportunities for guests to engage in farm living. The farm boasts a large blueberry field, where guests can pick their own berries during blueberry season. The expansive acres also have chestnut trees, elderberries and a pond for fishing. In the past, the Schmidts have planted other crops, such as raspberries, on the property.
The definition of agritourism, however, isn’t just limited to farms like the Schmidts’. Raymore says agritourism is about giving tourists an experience. She believes the popularity of farm-to-table restaurants offering unique experiences will continue to be in demand in Appalachia.
“Really, that’s a great example of merging agriculture and tourism … where you create this experience,” Raymore says. “And by virtue of the product that’s being served, it brings the agricultural community into it.”
Other forms of agritourism, such as wineries and distilleries using ingredients grown on-site, also hold a large presence in the Hocking Hills.
In Logan, land that has been in the Davidson family since 1960 is now home to Hocking Hills Winery. Here, the Davidsons grow their own hybrid varieties of grapes, which are crossbreeds between vinifera and native grapes.
Blaine Davidson, CEO of Hocking Hills Winery, says the Davidson land was originally his grandparents’ cattle farm. No one in the family wanted to continue to raise cattle, but they did want to hold onto the land’s agricultural roots.
“The vineyard idea just really kind of sparked an interest,” Davidson says. “It was something unique that I didn’t think anybody else was doing around here, and we were the first in Hocking County that I know of.”
Davidson says the original plan was to grow grapes and have the land operate as a vineyard. However, upon realizing how much work went into maintaining acres of grapes and what a tourist draw the Hocking Hills are, the vineyard evolved into Hocking Hills Winery in 2015.
The winery prides itself on its customer service, Davidson says. It offers a large outdoor patio with fire pits, charcuterie boards as well as the option to bring in outside food, live music and an enclosed patio for the cooler months.
“From the minute you get a step onto the property, it’s kind of like Disneyland: we want you to be happy, smiley and have a great experience,” Davidson says.
For both the Schmidts and Davidson, the ability to offer a one-of-a-kind, meaningful experience is paramount to what they do.
“I’ve been a farmer since I was a kid. I like creating food for people. Once you do that, it’s something that’s hard to explain to people,” Eric Schmidt says. “But it’s part of the sustainability of Earth and life. It’s sort of cool to be a part of that food chain.”