Agritourism initiative plants seeds for coordinated, strategic economic growth
Agritourism could be a path to profit for small area farms. Since the early 1700s, farming has been central to the spirit and success of the Shenandoah Valley. Today agriculture continues to play a fundamental role in the Valley’s community and economic health.
Agricultural tourism, or agritourism, merges the world of travel with special farm-related experiences. Across the country, there is growing interest in connecting and promoting agricultural assets. “Travelers are seeking authentic, local products and experiences,” says Sheryl Wagner, Staunton’s director of tourism.
A new agritourism grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development will coordinate and strengthen this key regional strength. The Fields of Gold initiative aims to inventory and map the region’s agricultural assets, sites, and businesses; study the impact of agritourism on the local economy; and promote the region as an agritourism destination. $56,250 in project funding is available to support the initiative.
Program expectations include:
Distinguishing the Shenandoah Valley region as a premier agritourism destination;
Opening new and profitable markets for local farm products, services and experiences;
Generating expenditures by tourists including meals, lodging, and retail purchases;
Create new jobs both on and off the farm; and
Rebuilding valuable connections between rural and urban populations.
Local officials, farmers and business people are rallying behind the Fields of Gold idea. “Our area is blessed with an abundance of farms, wineries, orchards, farmers markets, pick-your-own fields, and local-food restaurants that attract visitors to our area in increasingly larger numbers,” says Amanda Glover, assistant director of economic development for Staunton.
Staunton’s growing reputation as a culinary destination is due, in part, to an emerging slate of farm-to-fork restaurants such as Staunton Grocery and Zynodoa. When restaurateurs and retailers sell local farm products, they increase demand for these local products and provide a significant portion of farm revenue for producers.
“Since its inception, Staunton Grocery has helped at least one local farmer increase production and shift from part-time farming to full-time farming,” says Ian Boden, chef and owner. “The local food economy is totally integrated,” he continues “restaurants help sustain agriculture in the surrounding area.”
Jeff Goode, owner of Zynodoa restaurant, adds, “we buy from local producers, and the farm-to-table connection is also a culinary draw for visitors who travel to the Valley. We have the luxury of being able to source some of the best ingredients available anywhere in the country – right in our own back yard.”
The Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce recently launched the first annual Agritourism Festival at Hermitage Hill Farm & Stable in Augusta County, which attracted more than 600 people.
“Incredibly positive things can come from connecting and growing our clean, green industry of agritourism. By turning our agricultural dollars back into the local economy we are contributing to the future vitality of our family farms and creating a quality of life that is second to none,” says Nancy Sorrells, a member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and member of the Fields of Gold Steering Committee.
Already, over a quarter of the total value of agricultural products sold in Virginia comes from the Central Shenandoah Region. “Agritourism destinations like Barren Ridge Vineyards, Ox Eye Vineyards, Polyface Farm, and Andre Viette Nurseries are local economic anchors, attracting visitors and providing jobs,” says Dennis Burnett, director of economic development for Augusta County.
Through this collaborative effort, the region hopes to create opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs and existing agribusinesses to grow their business and increase their profits, while at the same time, giving the general public opportunities to learn about and enjoy the many faces of agriculture.
Survey efforts are currently underway to collect information on the region’s agritourism businesses, activities, farm retailers and restaurants featuring local products. Please let the CSPDC know if you run an agritourism business seasonally, year-around, part-time or full-time by filling out a survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Fields_of_Gold.