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The Accidental Agritourist

Madigan Kay '18, in Bologna, Italy.

Madigan Kay ’18  

Madigan Kay ’18 has worked in both agriculture and the hospitality industry, and when she learned about agritourism—working farms with a restaurant, lodging or other tourist feature—she knew she had to learn more. She discovered a way to combine her interests in travel, foreign cultures, food systems and sociology by studying Italian agritourism as a study-abroad student in Bologna (with support from the K. Robert Nilsson and Juliana P. Nilsson Scholarship), and she recently earned a grant from the William G. and Elke F. Durden International Fund, through the Center for Global Study & Engagement, to support this work. Below, Madigan discusses her fascination for that booming social movement, her internship at an Italian community garden, her travels to Africa and Europe as part of a Dickinson Mosaic, and more.


Italian & Italian studies and sociology, with a food studies certificate.

Clubs and organizations:  

Italian Club, First-Year Mentor, Alpha Lambda Delta and Eco-Reps.


K. Robert Nilsson and Juliana P. Nilsson Scholarship, Stabler Foundation Scholarship and William G. and Elke F. Durden International Fund grant.

Favorite book: 

Spud by John van de Ruit.

Favorite movie:

Hot Rod.

On choosing a major:

Like a lot of students, I came to Dickinson with a totally different idea of how my four years would go. I thought I would be an environmental studies major and start exploring psychology as a minor, but when I started taking Italian, I looked forward to going to class every day and learning more about the language, and every reading that I did for my sociology course blew my mind and made me want to delve more into the topic. My majors, and all of my courses at Dickinson, have positively changed the way I think and look at the world. That will bring all kinds of possibilities in the future.

On choosing Dickinson:

One thing that really drew me to Dickinson is the global education. Since traveling is an important part of my life, I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate study abroad as much as possible, and Dickinson has made that easy for me to accomplish. Last spring, I took part in the Mediterranean Migration Mosaic, and I am currently studying abroad in Bologna, Italy, for the year.

Favorite place on campus: 

When it’s warm, definitely the Trellis, but on a sunny day during the winter, nothing beats a seat in front of the giant windows on the quiet side of the library.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Penne with vodka sauce … I know, I’m in Italy, surrounded by pasta, right now, but I could still eat three helpings of it.

Post-Dickinson plans:

Traveling is a big passion of mine, so I definitely want to take a few years after college to explore different parts of the world. Sometimes it’s best to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

… an architect. I had a giant pad of grid paper that I would use to draw floor plans, most of which included a stable on the property for all of the horses that I wanted to own.

Favorite class so far:

Last spring I took part in the Second Mediterranean Migration Mosaic, which focused on human migration, specifically from Northern Africa to Italy. The program was very intense, but one of the most rewarding experiences of my Dickinson career. For me, it was one of the finest examples of a liberal arts and interdisciplinary education: The courses included history of migration, sociology of migration and a film studies course, and they all ended up contributing to one another to give us a really solid foundation of the phenomenon. When we went to Italy for our field research, it was very empowering to apply all of the work that we did in the classroom to the real world. Our field research gave us a crucial humanitarian perspective from migrants, NGOs and government officials, a perspective that we never would have gained if we had stayed in the classroom.

On studying in Bologna:

I am currently studying abroad in Bologna, Italy. One of the major highlights for me is hearing and speaking the language on a daily basis. My goal is to become as fluent as possible in Italian, and I decided that to achieve this goal, it would be best for me to live with a host family. I’m really lucky that Dickinson was able to arrange that for me, because I have an awesome Italian family that has taught me so much about the language and the culture. Language acquisition happens so gradually that sometimes it’s hard to recognize how far you’ve come. When I think back to the beginning of last semester, I could barely follow a conversation at dinner with my family or one that I overheard on the bus, but now I can. It’s really cool to have those moments of recognizing your improvement.

Proud accomplishment:

Making a pun in Italian. It can be hard to be witty in a foreign language, so when I finally nailed it (and got a laugh and an eye roll from my host brother) I was pretty excited. I also just recently ate a 50-centimeter pizza all by myself.

About my internship:

This semester I’ll be interning at a community organization called Le Serre dei Giardini Margherita, in the Bologna city park. It was just an area with abandoned greenhouses until about five years ago, when a cooperative converted it into a community space with a café, garden, co-working space and school for children 6 and under. They also put on a ton of events during the summer and throughout the year. I’ll be working in the garden and the education center, but I’m also excited to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work of how they transformed this abandoned urban space and how the organization builds community through its various initiatives and events.     

About my research:

This semester, I’m researching the agritourism industry—working farms with a hospitality aspect, such as restaurants, lodging or activities. Agritourism is a popular form of tourism in Italy, both for Italian and foreign tourists, so I’m looking into how it has become so successful and whether it could gain similar popularity in the US. I’m planning to visit a few different places in different regions and to interview the owners about why they entered agritourism, as well as the challenges they face. This research is supported by a grant through the William G. and Elke F. Durden International Fund.

I picked this topic because I have grown up with and worked in both the agriculture and hospitality industries, and I really enjoy them both. Since agritourism is a convergence of the two, and since it is so popular in Italy, I figured now would be the best time to learn more about it.

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Published March 13, 2017