The What and Why of Agritourism

This month’s Friends of Agriculture Breakfast featured a presentation by Annie Baggett, the Agritourism Marketing Specialist for the N. C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.  This blog will touch on the benefits of agritourism that were discussed, as well as some tips for starting your own tourism venture on the farm.

Agritourism is defined as:

“Any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an Agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity.”

-NC General Assembly 2005

 

The Benefits of Agritourism:

Below are some graphs illustrating some of the many benefits provided by agritourism .  These graphs were part of a study from NC State, assessing the benefits of agritourism for both farmers and vistors to the farm.overalleconomic_benefits

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socio_cultura

As you can see, allowing visitors to your farm has numerous economic, environmental, and sociocultural benefits.

Agritourism allows farm ventures to…

1) Be Profitable:

  • Farmers can even out their revenue stream
  • Maximize farm resources
  • Create post harvest revenue
  • Diminish the impact of catastrophic events (droughts, floods, crop failure, etc.)

2) Provide Education for the Public on the Benefits of Agriculture, and in turn:

  • Increase direct sales
  • Gain new customers
  • Enhance service to existing customers
  • Show the value of the farm product, so customers understand pricing

3) Preserve Family Farms and Way of Life

4) Create Future Farmers

5) Build Community Vibrancy

 

Maybe you are a farmer, and you’re wondering…where do I start???

First consider what you have and who you know!

  • What grows on your farm that could be made into a tourism activity??  Do you have livestock?  Berries for picking?  Value added product you make on site?  Do you have an old barn that could be used as a venue for special events?? etc.
  • What makes your farm special??  Maybe you are the only farmer producing….heirloom squash?  Or maybe your farm has an old barn that has a unique family history?? for example.  Outlining the key things your farm provides and what sets you apart is a great first step.
  • Did you know that there is a Polk County Farm Tour you can take part in??  ASAP also hosts a farm tour each year.  Look around at all the possibilities to advertise your farm and your product.

Next be sure to look at the safety of your farm.

  • Make sure that there are no considerable safety issues on site.
  • Make signs for electric fencing, fill large holes, etc.
  • If you have any concerns, your insurance agent can help answer questions.

Consider a Marketing Strategy

  • Think about a way to brand your farm or your farm product
  • Take pictures of the farm
  • Think about yourself as the face of the farm, and how you want to portray your venture.

got

North Carolina has a statewide campaign and it offers many free advertising services to farmers across the state!!

Here are some ways to advertise your farm to the 7 million tourists visiting NC Welcome Centers annually:

  • Join the Got To Be NC website for free!  You get to create your own webpage to advertise your farm.  For more information visit:  http://www.ncagr.gov/NCproducts/CatSubDirectory.asp?CatNum=1011
  • Your farm can potentially be advertised at the Raleigh and Mountain State Fairs, the Southern Farm Show, or the Got to Be NC Festival
  • Regionally a few programs are being developed for 2015:
    • Passport programs (specifically for distilleries across the state)
    • A food preservation program

 I hope this was helpful.

Get out there and show people the hard work you put into providing food for our community!!

Gardening with Kids

This week marked the beginning of a new educational program run by Sydney and Alex, the AmeriCorps members at PCOAED.  The after-school program seeks to increase children’s understanding of where their food comes from, how to grow it themselves, and the nutritional benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

The program will continue until school lets out and will incorporate vegetable and herb gardening, cooking, and additional outdoor science education.  Heidi Ramsey, the after school director at Polk Central Elementary, has allowed us to visit the school once a week to provide hands-on, environmental education.

seeds

This week’s focus was on seeds.

Everyone was allowed to feel, smell, and explore a variety of seeds that are common in cooking and baking.  The children were excited and engaged as they realized they had eaten mustard, poppy, sesame, and dill seeds.  They were allowed to crush up coriander seeds and smell the fragrant, lemony odor.

The students then learned about seed growth and season extension.  In preparation for an early spring garden, the children planted broccoli, kale, kholrabi, mustard, and lettuce seeds in flats.

A large part of experiential education is open exploration.  As an educator you are there to answer questions as they arise, but not to hinder students from self-discovery.

I have spent the last three years teaching children about environmental conservation and gardening, and it is by far the most rewarding and exciting job one could ask for.

Children love dirt, worms, and most of all, eating.

Gardens allow a space for exploration and learning outside the traditional classroom.  Kinesthetic learners who may struggle in school, thrive, as they are able to learn through physical movement and self-guided problem solving.

Children also learn to prepare fresh produce, and often when they cook these things themselves, they are excited to eat them, and even ask for seconds!

I can’t wait to see how the students learn and develop as we progress through our gardening program.  I hope to provide a weekly update, and hopefully some funny stories, as we ourselves learn as we teach.

 

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 3)

“If you’re going to change a community, start with food, it transcends all ideologies” -Chuck Marsh

Above is a picture of Geneva, Switzerland.  The country began a program of “foodscaping”  to provide families with low-cost healthy produce from their own back yards.  Growing food provides not only food, but it is therapy, and there is a lot of research to back that up.

When a garden is brought into a home it increases fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and overall health.

Home garden promotion is just one step in a multidimensional process of relocalizing our food system.

This blog is the final post of a 3-part series covering our December Friends of Agriculture Breakfast, and will conclude with a discussion on the actual process and steps needed to relocalize the food system in Polk County.

foodscales

 The first step is to begin in the garden.

As you can see above, a food system has multiple scales, and each will require tweaking as the process continues.  Once home gardens become established you can move to neighborhoods, the town, the county, the region, the state, etc.

Some ideas could be:  Establishing small orchards in neighborhoods, planting fruit trees in town centers, or planting 1/4 acre plots at schools, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.  for in-house use and education.  The list can go on and on.

The trick is to model the food system after ecosystems by designing for:

  • Adaptability
  • Interdependence
  • Cooperation and mutual support
  • Diversity
  • Redundancy
  • Stability
  • Energy Conservation

Neighborhoods and homes could establish small-scale vineyards, orchards, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, small livestock shelters, and maybe even aquaculture.

It is very exciting to think the changes that could occur within our community if our food-system were to be rebuilt.  This of course will require re-skilling residents on growing food as well as cooking.  Thirty-five percent of Americans don’t even own a frying pan!

The trick is to understand that relocalizing food will not occur overnight and will require trial-and-error.  Failure is to be expected, but should not be a hindrance to progress.  Polk County will be working towards this in the upcoming years, so keep an eye out, exciting things to come.

As Chuck said:

“Have fun.  Savor the journey toward an abundant future.”

Free Movie Screening in Tryon! More Than Honey

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Last night, I attended the Spartanburg Beekeepers Association meeting in Spartanburg, SC. There was a terrific turn out and a wonderful talk on how to prepare for the spring honey buildup.

It was such a great group of passionate, engaged beekeepers. I am looking forward to growing such a group in Polk County, linking them all, and learning together by engaging with the Spartanburg Beekeepers Association. This initiative begins now with the announcement of a free screening of More Than Honey.

This fascinating documentary looks at beekeeping across continents and through generations. It highlights the main issues facing our honeybee populations. It is free and open to the public! I look forward to getting all of the interested people in one room. That means you!

Here are the details of the event:

 

More Than Honey

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 – 7:00pm

Tryon Theatre

45 South Trade Street

Tryon, NC 28782

Beekeeping in Polk County

There are a number of beekeepers in Polk County. Many have just a hive or two and others have several. All of these hobbyist beekeepers have something to offer each other. In 2015, the Office of Agricultural Economic Development aims to network these beekeepers and link them with ongoing education.

A survey of beekeepers who have taken the Polk County Cooperative Extension Class (sign up for this year’s class if you haven’t had the course already) reveals a need to share information.

class poster

To accomplish this goal, we established the Polk County Beekeepers Facebook page. Additionally, we believe that the Spartanburg Beekeepers Association is a good club for Polk County beekeepers to join.

Join me at their next meeting on January 8th! Their President, Mark Sweatman, lives just over the border in Landrum, and the club meetings are entertaining, engaging and informative. Each meeting is the second Thursday of every month. The club meets at 6:30pm with the formal presentation at 7:00pm. The meetings are held at:

Spartanburg County Administration Building,

Conference Room #6,

366 North Church Street Spartanburg, SC 29303

(enter in the back of building on the left side)

If there is enough interest, I hope to organize a Polk County subchapter to go to their meetings every month. A more tightly knit group of beekeepers in Polk County would serve as a wonderful resource. If there is enough interest, transportation may even be arranged.

I look forward to the community’s input on the form of this local beekeeping group, and I am eager to meet everyone who keeps bees in our community. A group is needed for mutual support!

 

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 2)

The last blog emphasized that despite grocery stores shelves being packed full of products, and millions of dollars being distributed for food assistance programs, our world is actually quite food insecure.   Limited access to nutritious, affordable food is leading to rampant health problems and decreasing our societal knowledge of where food comes from.   The first step is acknowledging the fact that food insecurity is a real problem for Polk County, as discussed in part one.  This blog is part two of our series, and will discuss how we assess what we need in order to “relocalize” our food system.

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
Joel Salatin

Just as Joel Salatin emphasizes above, it is clear that we must begin to address food system issues from the ground-up, rather than depending on outside agencies to be the fix-all solution.  In order to begin building a resilient local food system, we must first understand what our nutritional needs as humans are.  Then we must address the nutritional gaps in our local food supply and how to fill these at various scales within the community.

As humans we need: about 2,300 calories a day in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; additionally we need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and medicinal plants for healing.  All of these nutritional needs come from vegetables, herbs and spices, root crops, grains, animals and animal products, oils, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and products made from the above.  In order to build a resilient system, we must grow all of the above, and also produce value-added products.  That seems like a lot to tackle!  But if addressed at various production scales, it is actually quite feasible if the community is willing.

The first step is to identify regional staples that can be reliably produced in large quantities each year.

One example in Polk County would be sweet potatoes, or apples.  Next you ask:

  • “How many pounds of apples, sweet potatoes, ________, do Polk County residents consume in a year?”
  • “How many pounds do we currently produce…How many pounds are imported?”
  • “How can we increase local production to meet demand?”
  •  “How can we make these local products accessible in all markets?”

Other regional staples for Western NC include: potatoes, onions, beans, corn, pumpkin and squash, cabbage and greens, eggs, fruit, nuts, berries, wild plants and game, and small and large livestock.  Establishing a steady supply of products that are easily grown in your region is a first step towards stabilizing the food system.

 After we establish regional staples, we must look at growing the most nutrient dense foods.

The trick is to grow things that provide the most nutrition per square foot of production.  Some examples include: Cranberries, which are high in nutrient content and used to be native to NC, muscadines and paw paw which both provide cancer fighting potential and grow wild in our region.

We must also consider growing grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.  Additionally nuts have lots of potential to provide economic support to farmers, since now a large percentage of nuts produced in California are being shipped to Asia (70% of almonds are being shipped!).  Locally we can produce almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pecans.  Seeds are also nutrient powerhouses and flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds could all be produced locally.

In terms of fats we must be able to produce oil and also obtain some from animal products.  Grapeseed oil has great potential in our region where viticulture provides grape skin waste that could be processed into oil.  Oil presses are not a high-cost equipment, and could be used on a co-op scale.  Other important nutrient powerhouses we can produce locally are mushrooms, herbs, goat’s milk and cheeses, as well poultry and eggs.

It is also important to grow Antioxidant Super Foods

Elderberry is a great example of a product that is native to this region and also possesses many medicinal properties.  Muscadine grapes, as mentioned above, are also a great source of antioxidants, boasting a higher antioxidant content that blueberries!  Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, red peppers, red cabbage, beets, etc. are also so called “super foods.”

 Muscadines Black

 

One we establish what we need to grow, it is important to understand how  we can grow enough food to support our community.  To do this we must:

Identify and plug local nutritional food gaps.

Chuck Marsh stated that the two hardest nutrients to provide at a local scale will be oils and minerals.  Mountain soils are old and typically lack many minerals, but can be re-mineralized with proper soil management techniques.  Oils on the other hand will require large scale supply of products, as well as the machinery to process and package.  Typically grain is grown in the cereal belt, but in order to address food security, we must promote grain farming for human consumption.  Finally non-grain staples and value-added products will be needed, which opens up the opportunity for local economic development and diversification.

The whole goal is to cut out the intermediaries who, by shipping the food 1000’s of miles, and spending large amounts of money on advertising, distort the true cost of food while also depleting the health of citizens.  By cutting out the middle-man we can provide great nutrients per dollar and rebuild our local economies.

This will not be an overnight change, nor will it come without its challenges  One insight I gained from the discussion is that we cannot learn or grow without challenges.  Challenge builds character and inner strength.  Working as a community to address food security will not only improve the physical health of citizens, but may also promote emotional and spiritual well being.  The final blog will discuss how we can begin to work towards filling the gaps in our system.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…