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Skaggs: Ag tourism booming in Georgia

POSTED: November 14, 2007 5:05 a.m.

From working dairies where kids meet cows to a bed-and-breakfast on a Mennonite farm, Georgians are finding that agriculture and tourism can go together like biscuits and gravy.

“Agriculture is the leading industry in the state, followed by tourism,” said Gilda Watters, director of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Georgia Tourism Foundation. Together, they can craft memories that are “authentic and real and memorable.”

Nature-based tourism brought $50.8 million to the state’s economy in 2006. Ag-based tourism added another $27.1 million, according to the University of Georgia’s Georgia Farm Gate Value Report.

“When I was a child, I was lucky enough to be born on a farm,” said Scott Cagle, founder of Agri-Tour Solutions. “Most people today were never near a farm. An agritourism farm gives them access.”

The counties topping the state agritourism market range from Thomas in southwest Georgia to Rabun in the extreme northeast corner. The numbers measure single businesses’ and counties’ successes. What’s missing is a statewide effort.

“Right now, it’s just a bunch of independent people doing their own thing,” said Kent Wolfe, a marketing analyst with the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

Wolfe is working with Cagle, Watters and others to start a statewide agritourism association. They aim to improve opportunities, whether it’s through added marketing, state legislation or better liability insurance options.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than 62 million people 16 years old and older visit farms each year. They average spending $28 per visit, said David Dyer of Garland’s Ridge Farm. “Clearly, agritourism can become a pathway to success for farm operations in an increasingly urban Georgia.”

Some farmers say they need a commission for agritourism. “They need someone who has the everyday responsibility to develop agritourism products,” said Bruce Green, director of product development for the DED tourism division. “Right now, we don’t have that.”

These issues will be discussed at the “Symposium of Discovery: Agritourism and the Creative Economies in Georgia.” The meeting will be Nov. 13-14 at the Agricenter in Perry. Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina speakers will show how they’re supporting and promoting agritourism. A panel will share success stories. Breakout topics will include heritage, nature-based and farm tourism, packaging, marketing and farm crafts.

“In the past 10-15 years, we’ve seen a great number of farms not being productive anymore, farms that have been in families for 50-100 years,” Green said. “At the very minimal level, it’s the family figuring how to make a living off the land they’ve inherited.”

Through the program, “we clearly hope to gain structure, a sense of what the next steps should be,” Watters said. She hopes to make people more aware, too, of agritourism’s value to the state.

North Georgia is fortunate to have several great agritourism sites. Locally, Jaemor Farms is a great example of how tourist activities can combine well with a working farm. Jaemor Farms offers a corn maze, hayrides, pedal car racing, and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.

In Watkinsville and Loganville, visitors pick strawberries, blueberries and blackberries at Washington Farms. In Cherokee County, visitors can pet a cow at Cagle’s Dairy, and outside Dahlonega, patrons can sip Vidal Blanc at Three Sisters Vineyards.

For more on the symposium, contact Kent Wolfe at (706) 542-0752 or Maggie Potter at the Georgia DED at (706) 649-1306. Or visit www.visitgafarms.com.

Billy Skaggs is Hall County extension agent. Thanks to Stephanie Schupska, UGA CAES News Editor.



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