State expert says women excel at social nature of enterprise
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Agritourism is a fairly new topic at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, but it's one that gets more exciting by the day.
That was the message from ISDA trade specialist Katlin Davis at the first ever "Idaho Women in Agriculture" conference March 2 at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.
"The opportunities are endless," she told nearly 100 women attending the conference.
Opening the farm or ranch to the public to see something, do something or buy something holds special opportunity for women in particular, due to their typically social nature, she said.
Agritourism is hard to define, but it can run the gamut from an annual festival event to farm and ranch vacations. Ag producers can supplement their income by hosting festivals, weddings and family reunions, offering demonstrations such as cheese making or cattle roundups, or offering activities such as corn mazes, haunted barns, horseback riding, petting zoos, hay rides and U-pick harvests, she said.
Benefits beyond extra income include an increase in farm value, increased family interaction, public education and a connection between rural and urban communities.
Agritourism is also on the radar at the Idaho Department of Commerce's efforts to get tourists to Idaho, said Diane Norton, marketing specialist with the department.
Among its many focused tourist itineraries, the department is developing on-farm culinary and harvest-time opportunities, she said.
Tourism is very competitive today, and the department wants to find things to set Idaho apart. Agritourism, with its ability to share the food experience, is one such area. With winter and summer outdoor activities abounding in Idaho, harvest events can help fill the lull in tourism's "shoulder" season in the fall, she said.
"Harvest is the perfect time to market (the department's) Harvest Idaho, One Bite at a Time," she said.
Idaho is known for its potatoes, but it can build on that to attract visitors to its 140 crops, cattle, wine and microbrewery industries, she said.
A 2007 survey by the Travel Industry Association found that culinary or wine tours represented 17 percent of leisure travel, with one-third of the average $1,200 per-person expenditures going to meals and food product purchase, she said.
Tourists really respond to cooking classes and special food events and would embrace Idaho's hospitable touch, she said.
"People are hungry for what we have to offer. We haven't even begun to tap our potential," she said.
If farmers want those tourists on their farms, the department can help make that happen by helping agriculture tell its story and drawing tourists to the on-farm food experience, she said.
While there's lots of opportunity, there's also a lot to consider, Davis said
When considering agritourism, farmers need to first consider their social skills and whether they'd enjoy interacting with the public.
Other considerations include whether they can maintain their privacy; insurance and safety; animal welfare; labor and financial management; government regulations, such as local planning and zoning requirements; and sales taxes if they are selling products, she said.
They also need to assess the market, consider their location, figure out if it's right for them and whether it would be profitable. They also need to assess who their customers would be and connect to that, whether its families, locals or out-of-towners, she said.
Successful agritourism operations demand good marketing strategies and plenty of social media and word-of-mouth advertisement, she said.