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Agritourism-It's Time for a N.A.P.A!
By: Jane Eckert
Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and look at the big picture. We are currently enjoying great successes with our agritourism businesses and many of you have increased your farm revenues significantly. Of course, along with these rewards come the longer hours of working, learning new people skills, handling family squabbles, fighting with local government regulators, the agony of hiring first-time workers and the list goes on and on. However, for many agritourism farms it was these activities that have brought your college-educated children back into the business, and hopefully a succession plan is in place to continue and sustain your farming operation in the future.
Agritourism as an industry was officially recognized when the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, announced their 2006 new words. It was noted that the first use of the word agritourism was in 1978. In the case of our family farm, Eckert’s Orchard, we have been involved with agritourism since 1910 and just didn’t have a word for it back then. I know of many other farms that have had a very long and proud history in direct farm marketing.
The North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, which focuses specifically on the agritourism industry, was formed in 1986. Their stated mission is as follows: “NAFDMA is a membership based trade association dedicated to providing endless peer-to-peer learning opportunities, connections and resources, for farmers who are passionate about the business of agritourism and farm direct marketing.”
Once agritourism became a recognized value added industry, many state Departments of Agriculture; Tourism Departments both local, regional & state; Rural Development Agencies; Extension Services; Farm Bureau and more have jumped on the haywagon to assist agritourism operators grow their businesses. This involvement also includes our neighboring Canadian provinces that spend resources, money and time to grow agritourism.
A few of the most noted improvements in our industry this past decade include:
- States and provinces have been creating agritourism associations to band together the producers in their state for education, joint marketing and networking.
- The passage of many state agritourism liability laws, providing greater protection to the farms that invite the public onto their property. The posting of approved liability signs have been most welcomed by the smaller operators.
- In many states, the state Departments of Transportation (DOT), encouraged by the continued urgency of tourism and agricultural specialists, now permit both state highway and county road signs to direct people to agritourism destinations.
- The state of Florida has also enacted legislation that “would eliminate duplication of regulatory authority over agritourism stating a local government may not adopt an ordinance, regulation, rule or policy that prohibits, restricts, regulates, or otherwise limits and agritourism activity on land classified as agricultural land…” and it will be nice to see other states follow their lead.
Our successes have been noticed. On the negative side, some of our higher visibility is creating new problems. Unfortunately I am hearing more frequently from farmers, and attorneys representing farms, that local and county governments are wanting to limit agritourism activities to reduce noise, hours and the number of people that actually can come to the farm. It’s becoming clear that our livelihood of agritourism may be in jeopardy in some municipalities.
Our industry is now truly at a crossroads where better communication between our state, provincial and federal leaders (U.S. and Canada) is not just a nice thing to talk about but an absolute necessity to keep our industry growing and thriving. We must assertively educate those in the position to affect policy regarding agritourism best practices, regulatory issues of agritourism, farm signage acceptance with the D.O.T. and continuing new farmer education.
This is why I am strongly in favor of a new organization that has been formed in the past few months called the National Agritourism Professional Association (NAPA), www. napa-usandcanada.com. I am not typically a fan of joining organizations just to be a member but I truly believe that this membership will be of benefit to all of us and I have joined.
Martha Glass, formerly the Agritourism Director with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, has had the vision for the need of such a group for several years, and has been spearheading this effort to organize our North American agritourism professional leaders. They had their first organizational meeting this past August. Martha has collected a list of 245 names from all 50 states and 7 Canadian provinces to be represented and currently put together an organizing board of directors. Plus, NAPA is encouraging individual farm memberships and participation as they begin to share and disseminate information via e-newsletter, list serve, website, Face book group etc. across North America.
You can go online to join and pay $100.00 annual dues for 2015 to support our network of agritourism professionals that are working for you. As we begin to encounter more neighbor issues and confrontation with government officials, we will all benefit by the combined knowledge and networking capabilities of this organization. If you have agritourism leaders in your state be sure and pass along this article to them so they can participate and gain support through strength in numbers. NAPA plans to have a 2015 meeting that will be January 31, 2015 prior to the NAFDMA conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
Agritourism has come a very long way. Now, if we want our industry to succeed for generations to come we need to ensure that we have created a viable foundation for future growth. Please join me and become a member of NAPA.
Jane Eckert, a national speaker, author and agritourism expert, is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a firm that helps farmers sell products directly to consumers and develop their operations into tourist destinations, and Farm Web Design, an Internet marketing firm specializing in agritourism farm websites. She is also CEO of RuralBounty.com, a consumer based directory of agritourism farms in North America. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or at email@example.com