Developing Regional Agritourism Networks
Shermain Hardesty and Penny Leff of the University of California Small Farm Program, building on the work of the UC-based Agritourism and Nature Tourism Workgroup, see an opportunity in agritourism to increase and diversify profits for producers, given the increased public demand for local foods and for education about local farms and ranches. However, producers starting agritourism enterprises face challenges including acquiring new skills and partnerships as they enter the hospitality business and navigating the differing zoning ordinances and permitting processes in each of the 58 counties. In addition, not all agricultural professionals are familiar with the possibilities of agritourism or the existence of the multiple county-wide agritourism organizations. The development of regional and statewide networks of professionals involved in agritourism (defined as a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors and that generates supplemental income for the owner) would be very helpful in overcoming these challenges.
To address the gap in knowledge and partnerships, they received PDP funding for their project, Capacity Building Workshops: Developing Regional Agritourism Networks for Agricultural Sustainability and Education (EW10-004). Already they have seen positive developments such as widespread interest in organizing a statewide working group to help producers, ag professionals and tourism professionals stay connected and work on policy and regulations.
Leff, Hardesty and their partners aimed to increase all participants’ knowledge of agritourism challenges and opportunities; to share best practices and innovative collaborations; to develop regional networks connecting all partners; to encourage easing of permitting and regulatory barriers to new agritourism operations; and to encourage business planning, risk management, hospitality skill development and effective marketing by farmers and ranchers diversifying with agritourism.
To accomplish this, they formed regional planning teams to help organize five regional workshops around the state, with 355 participants total. Four follow-up gatherings with tours were organized, email newsletters connected participants, and a Facebook page was created to continue networking efforts. Participants include producers interested in starting an agritourism operation, current agritourism operators, farm advisors and other ag professionals, tourism professionals, government staff and elected officials, and agriculture, community development and economic development organizational representatives.
In addition to the proposed working group and continued networking, preliminary results from a survey eight months after the workshops reveal that 14% of participating producers hosted visitors for the first time, 30% of participating producers have begun planning new agritourism activities, 24% of participants have helped educate producers about agritourism and 92% of non-farmer participants have helped promote agritourism since the workshops.
One California State Fair Art coordinator stated, “Since attending the workshop I have a heightened awareness of agritourism and have encouraged counties and organizations in counties to incorporate this into their displays.”
The project’s most recent event was held on November 4, 2011 with funding from the California SARE PDP. The Statewide Agritourism Summit proved exciting for its 120 participants, with a keynote speech by Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross and presentations by leaders of the Apple Hill Growers Association, California’s oldest agritourism association and the director of the North Carolina Agritourism Networking Association. In North Carolina, the director, Martha Glass, works for the state department of agriculture. She talked to audience about forming statewide agritourism associations, which garnered much interest from the audience. Reports back from regional breakout sessions at the summit called for more collaboration, more public education about agriculture, a supportive statewide agritourism organization and streamlining of the permitting and regulatory process.
The project leaders will stay in touch with those interested in moving toward a working group or association and will be writing a white paper on those efforts.
To learn more:
Presentations and handouts from the “Growing Agritourism” PDP workshops.
Notes from the small group discussions, handouts and presentations from the Statewide Agritourism Summit.
Find “AgTour Connections” on Facebook and like their page for more info.
Download project poster:
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) EW10-004, Capacity Building Workshops: Developing Regional Agritourism Networks for Agricultural Sustainability and Education .
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