Monday, August 04, 2014

Agricultural tourism is growing in Appalachia

Advocates say agricultural tourism can help revive struggling rural economies, especially in Appalachia, reports The Associated Press. Ag tourism — which "refers to working farm enterprises geared to visitors, encompassing farm stands, pumpkin patches, barn dances, zip-line rides, pick-your-own berries, corn mazes and even weddings," generated about $700 million in 2012, a 24 percent increase since 2007, and has become one of agriculture’s fasting growing sectors, said Kelly Smith, marketing and commodities director at the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Appalachian areas, many of which are trying to find economic alternatives after the loss of coal dollars, are pushing ag tourism as a way to improve local economies, AP reports. "Last month, the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency charged with promoting economic development in that area, launched a map and guide of nearly 300 farmers markets, vineyards, farm-to-fork restaurants and other destinations in an effort to boost the industry. The map and guide were published in Food Traveler Magazine and online."

Bloomery Plantation Distillery
"Linda Losey, who had never owned a farm before, started Bloomery Plantation Distillery in 2011 after deciding to try her hand at making limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur," AP writes. The distillery, located in Charles Town, W.Va., "uses many of its home-grown products in its drinks — 'Moonshine Milkshake' and hard lemonade among them — plucking fresh raspberries, pumpkin, lemons and ginger. Now, the business generates nearly $1 million in annual sales and employs 14 people." The business has also found success on the Internet, with offsite sales rising from 3 percent a year ago to 20 percent today.

Katy Orr-Dove, whose family farm opened a retail market in 1995 in Martinsburg, W.Va., said retail sales generate about 15 percent of business, up from 5 percent seven years ago, AP writes. She told AP, "People started having a greater interest in finding locally grown fruits and vegetables and they started looking for us. At about the same time, we decided we wanted to reach out more and increased our advertising, our website, our e-newsletter.”

In 2012, the state's 174 ag-tourism farms "generated about $1.2 million in ag tourism — up from 112 farms and $970,000 in 2007," AP writes. Orr-Dove told AP, “The possibilities are endless. West Virginia is known for being mountainous farmlands. And there are a lot of people who have small farms already.” (Read more)

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