Agritourism program matures into second year

Residents and visitors in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia will soon be able to more easily learn about and enjoy the rich farming and farm-related businesses in the area, thanks to a burgeoning agritourism initiative called Fields of Gold.

Spearheaded by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, Fields of Gold is gaining steam and gathering accolades into its second year. With a recent Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) Achievement Award for Best Regional Collaboration under their belt, a mapping project featuring more than 130 farm-related sites underway and several events planned for this fall, organizers believe that showcasing the multifaceted role of agriculture will have a major impact on the region’s economy.

A collaborative regional economic development program serving six counties and five cities in the Shenandoah Valley: Counties of Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge, Rockingham, and Shenandoah and the Cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton, and Waynesboro, Fields of Gold is focused on promoting the Shenandoah Valley as an agritourism destination, creating and retaining jobs on the farm, expanding tourism jobs off the farm, and nurturing an environment for entrepreneurism. By establishing better linkages between agricultural producers and consumers, the program strives to strengthen the local food system and invigorate the economy.

Reacting to the VACo Achievement Award presented to Augusta County on behalf of the collaboration, Tracy C. Pyles Jr., Chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors said, “Fields of Gold further emphasizes the important role of agriculture in our economy, and we look forward to continued success.” James Campbell, VACo executive director pointed out the prestige of the VACo award. “It always amazes me the level of competition for Achievement Awards. This year is no exception. Competition is fierce. All 37 entries are deserving but only the best will receive an award. I’m grateful we have outstanding judges because the task to pick winners is not an easy one.”

The VACo Achievement Awards is a competitive program open to local government members of the association. For more information, visit VACo’s Achievement Awards website ( where you can view all 2012 entries (

The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC) has been working closely with tourism departments, local government representatives and agritourism operators in developing and expanding the Fields of Gold program. The CSPDC has organized and staffed committee meetings, collected and analyzed survey data, and designed the maps. Additionally, the CSPDC has designed promotional materials, built web pages, conducted an economic impact analysis, and led a number of agritourism educational workshops. The CSPDC is using planning grant funds received from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to inventory and map the region’s agricultural assets, sites and businesses. The goal is to produce a web-based interactive map to promote the farms and agritourism businesses in the Shenandoah Valley.

Educational and awareness events planned by the CSPDC in September and October aim to advance the initiative to the next level. “Agritourism in a Creative Economy” will be held on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 from 10am-3:30pm at the Edinburg Mill, 214 S. Main Street, Edinburg in Shenandoah County. Participants will learn about agritourism possibilities, liability issues, marketing, social media and customer service strategies. Local agritourism entrepreneurs will talk about challenges and successes. Natalie Wills, Director of Tourism and Marketing for Shenandoah County talks about the workshop: “We’re really excited about the upcoming workshop at The Edinburg Mill… The workshop is for anyone either already open to the public or for those thinking of opening their farm to the public. Combined with the historic mill setting, a local foods lunch, and great speakers, this workshop is a must-attend event for the Shenandoah Valley farming community.”

The 2nd Annual Shenandoah Valley Agritourism Festival will be held Oct. 21, 2012 from 1-5pm at Augusta Expo Land in Fishersville, VA. Last year’s event drew more than 50 agricultural vendors and 600 people. Event partners from the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce are currently taking vendor applications and offering affordable sponsorships to local businesses. Interested businesses should contact Melissa Martin, Director of Community Development at The Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce at 540-324-1133 or for details.

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