The purpose of this research is to learn more about non-traditional agritourism operations in the state of Texas. Specifically, I am interested in farmers and ranchers who invite and welcome visitors to their property. Because of the broad definition I used for agritourism—a visit to an agricultural setting for recreation, educational purposes, or leisure—some of the agricultural operators included in my study would not classify themselves as agritourism operators. Similarly, many of the participating farmers and ranchers would not refer to their visitors as “tourists.”
A major goal of my research involves exploring the ways in which agritourism operators value their land and construct their relationships with the natural environment. Sanders (2005) reported a shift among many large-scale Texas ranchers from the so-called “frontier hero,” who conquers the land, to a steward of the land. Is this also true for farmers and ranchers who invite visitors to their property? Through the course of my research, I also developed an interest in the way in which farmers and ranchers understand environmental sustainability and in the sociality of agritourism—specifically, the ways in which they use the natural environment to create a social community.
Tourism literature is saturated with research related to the ways travel affects the natural environment (for examples, see Kuvan, 2005; Neto, 2003; Nim, 2006; Russell & Wallace, 2004). However, there is little research related to the ways in which tourism affects human relationships with and perceptions of the natural environment. Gӧssling (2002) echoed this sentiment, and he conducted research in Zanzibar to explore human-environment relationships in the context of tourism and sustainable development. He critically concluded, “tourism can be seen as an agent of modernization, which decontextualizes and dissolves the relationships individuals have with society and nature…” (p. 550). The context of international “sun, sand, and sex” tourism, however, differs greatly from the context of Texas agritourism. In a first step toward my research regarding tourism’s impact on human relationships with the environment, it is necessary to define what those relationships are; only then can we explore the ways in which agritourism, or any other form of tourism, affects the relationships.