Promoting ‘Agri-tourism’

Business seminar
attracts area farmers

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (Sept. 2003) – Madison native Jill Keller moved from Columbus, Ohio, back to her family farm on the Hanover, Ind., hill about two years ago. Only 20 acres remain of the once 200-acre farm, which had been in Keller’s family since 1875.
Keller, a retired real estate broker, leases the majority of her property for the farming of feed grains. She recently began investigating other uses.

Kelly Ludwig

Kelly Ludwig

“I’m exploring options. It’s a process of elimination,” she said.
Keller was among 44 individuals who attended the “Introduction to Agri-tourism” seminar on Aug. 13 at the Venture Out Business Center in Madison. Sponsored by the Southern Indiana Rural Development Project, the seminar featured a presentation by Kelly Ludwig, international trade specialist with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
What is agri-tourism? According to Ludwig, it’s “any business conducted by a farmer for the enjoyment or education of the public, to promote the products of the farm and to generate additional farm income.”
Although the catch phrase “agri-tourism” is new, the concept it represents is not. If you’ve ever toured a dairy farm, paid to find your way through a corn maze, harvested your own strawberries from a “u-pick” operation or visited a winery for a tasting, then you’ve already had a first-hand, agri-tourism experience, whether you knew it or not.
What is new is a coordinated effort by many states to officially link agriculture with the tourism industry in order to capture a growing market number of rural tourists. And like any new venture that inspires hope in the form of dollars and cents, agri-tourism is catching on. Several states, including Kentucky, New York, Maryland, Vermont, California, Connecticut and Tennessee, are already capitalizing on the concept.
In Kentucky, Ludwig helped develop the agri-tourism initiative for the KDA while working there as an intern and earning a master’s degree from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. Since that time, the KDA has formed an agri-tourism working group, which produced a special report or “white paper,” that includes six recommendations for promoting a viable state-wide agri-tourism industry.
Additionally, in 2002 the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 654, which created the Office of Agri-tourism and established the Agri-tourism Advisory Council.
Tobacco settlement funds of $400,000 were allocated by the agriculture development board to pay for a full-time coordinator for the agri-tourism office and initiatives to encourage agri-tourism throughout the state. A website providing agri-tourism information and listing agri-tourism attractions across Kentucky was developed in conjunction with the West Kentucky Corp., an economic development organization.
Ludwig, who is filling in until an official coordinator is hired, travels throughout the state and region sharing Kentucky’s efforts with local and state officials, farmers, and anyone interested in learning more about the agri-tourism concept.
In Madison, Ludwig addressed a gathering which included extension service agents, chamber of commerce and tourism bureau officials, representatives from Sen. Richard Lugar’s and Rep. Baron Hill’s offices and administrators of various other civic organizations from around the area.

Examples of

• Outdoor recreation (fishing, hunting, wildlife study, horseback riding)
• Educational experiences (school tours, classes, or tastings)
• Entertainment (harvest festivals or barn dances)
• Hospitality services (farm stays, tours or outfitter services)
• On-farm direct sales (u-pick operations or roadside stands)
Source: Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Greg Bedan, who attended the seminar on behalf of the Indiana Tourism Division in Indianapolis, said his office is looking at ways to organize a state-wide agri-tourism effort in Indiana similar to what was initiated by the KDA in Kentucky.
“I look at it as an opportunity for us to develop a new tourism product,” Bedan said. “We have (agri-tourism) right in our backyard; why not utilize it?” Bedan said officials from the tourism division, the Indiana Agricultural Commission and Purdue University met last winter to explore possibilities of a collaborative effort.
Another meeting, open to everyone from tourism officials to farmers, was held on April 30. That meeting, said Bedan, was “standing room only.” Bedan said efforts to establish an official agri-tourism initiative in Indiana, a state known for its agricultural industry, is supported by many groups, including the Department of Commerce. “It’s definitely something we’re going to pursue,” Bedan said.
In Kentucky, tourism is the third largest industry, bringing $8.8 billion into the economy and agriculture receipts exceed $4 billion in direct farm gate sales and an estimated $25 billion in indirect sales. Linking the two industries seemed to make sense financially, especially to farmers facing economic uncertainty. Even before the agri-tourism office was officially formed, the KDA regularly fielded calls regarding the concept. “We just have so many farmers that are trying to look for ways to get supplemental income,” Ludwig said.
Providing farmers with supplemental income is not the only goal of agri-tourism, Ludwig said. The initiative also serves to educate the public about agriculture. The gap between consumers and the world of agriculture can be massive, according to Ludwig, and agri-tourism is one way to decrease that gap by increasing agricultural awareness among consumers and promoting agricultural products. Ludwig noted the example of a dairy farm in Kentucky where individuals can observe operations including everything from milking cows to making ice cream.
As tempting an opportunity as agri-tourism may seem, Ludwig cautioned individuals to carefully consider everything that’s involved before putting out a roadside sign to welcome visitors to their farm. “It’s not for every farmer,” she stressed. Planning and zoning, insurance, liability and signage are just a couple of issues that have arisen from the agri-tourism boom currently being investigated.

• For more information about agri-tourism visit the website: www.thinkwestkentucky.com/agriculture.

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