Sharing Agritourism Practices; a Sabbatical in Spain

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An interview with Dr. Carla Barbieri, professor at North Carolina State University, about her sabbatical in Spain this past fall semester.

Dr. Barbieri, thank you very much for sharing your experiences during your sabbatical at the University of Alicante in Spain. To begin, did you propose a specific project to work on or was one proposed to you?

I proposed a plan of work to the Fulbright Scholar program, a nation-wide program that seeks to improve intercultural relations and competence between the people of the US and other countries. My plan of work included researching, teaching, and mentoring of graduate students. I am very honored that I got the Fulbright scholarship because it gave me the opportunity to exchange knowledge, skills and cultural insights.

Image of Dr. Barbieri with a Spanish farmer

Dr. Barbieri with a Spanish farmer discussing his olivar and olive mill (Baeza, Jaen).

How did you end up at the University of Alicante (UA)?

For the Fulbright application, I required to have a host institution that would support my work. I chose to work with Dr. Espeso Molinero, a social anthropologist affiliated with the Instituto Universitario de Investigaciones Turísticas because I was very interested in exchanging experiences to conduct tourism research. During my sabbatical, I wanted to both contribute to my host institution and also learn from them. The University of Alicante provided me the opportunity to conduct a study enriched by their anthropological approach and my sociological lenses.

What can you tell us about your research in Spain?

With my colleagues at UA, we started a study to identify indicators of success in agritourism across the globe. Agritourism happens when farmers offer education or recreation activities to increase their income. While I was there, we set up the foundations of this study by interviewing agritourism entrepreneurs in different regions of Spain. However, this will be a long-term project. The next step will be collecting similar data in the US, and later in other selected countries.

Is agritourism conducted similarly in Spain as it is here?

The scholarly concept of agritourism is universal. Everything centers on the offer of education or recreation in a working agricultural setting. However, the practice of agritourism is very distinct worldwide, which is one of its cool characteristics. The activities offered depend on the resources available to the farmer and the region, and they must respond to what visitors seek. In Spain, for example, it’s heavily influenced by their wine production and local foods. Another big difference is that in Spain, agritourism tends to include on-site accommodation in casas rurales.

Image of Dr. Barbieri interviewing a farmer

Dr. Barbieri interviewing a farmer who is a cheese maker (Tibi, Alicante)

Would you say agritourism is very situational depending on supply and demand?

Yes, but I want to say it’s more of the supply than the demand. You have to go with what the farm offers. If you have perennial crops, it’s not so easy to do a self-harvest. But, you do need to have a demand; people that want to participate in agritourism.

Did you see any differences with the work you’re doing here in North Carolina or anything in particular that you were able to share in Spain?

Yes, I was able to share a lot because the practice of agritourism is so different. For example, when they had a panel of experts for two hours with farmers and the general public about agritourism, I gave examples from all over the world about how they’re different. But in the end, all places have the same core values; it’s farmers trying to increase their revenues and diversify their source of income. Exchanging how we practice agritourism in different regions opens learning opportunities for everyone.

And did you find any similarities?

Yes, I believe that a commonality relates to the struggles that many family farmers are facing, which seems to be a global problem. So agritourism is a way that farmers can increase their profits. It also gives them the opportunity to sell directly to the final consumer. The purpose is not only “come to my farm and have fun,” but agritourism is also a channel for direct sale of farm products and to educate the public about local foods. Essentially, agritourism is a way to make a farmer’s lifestyle sustainable.

Aside from your work, did you have any particularly exciting experiences or any part of the Spanish culture that you really enjoyed?

Everything that is new, is a source of experience and a process of learning. It really depends on how you approach it. I relied on public transportation 100% of the time. I didn’t want to rent a car which was challenging, but it was great at the same time! It took me about one hour to the university and back every day in public transportation. You can say, “well, that’s a waste of time” but it was great to catch up with readings that I can include in my work. I think the whole experience was unique.

Overall, and I have said this before, my sabbatical in Spain gave me the opportunity to embrace another lifestyle, learn different ways to approach my work, and to share my work with colleagues, students, farmers, and the public. However, in the end, all those experiences helped me appreciate more what I have here at NC State University.

Thank you to Dr. Barbieri for her time.