By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

BOISE, Idaho -- State agriculture and commerce officials have been deluged by farmers and ranchers interested in a Dec. 8 agritourism workshop.

"There has been tons of interest since we first announced it," said Idaho State Department of Agriculture trade specialist Lacey Menasco, who is organizing the one-day event in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Menasco said there has been a marked increase in interest about agritourism among farmers who are looking for creative ways to supplement their income.

The workshop is designed to help those people explore the opportunities and challenges involved in agritourism, which is defined as any agriculture-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch.

"There are a lot of opportunities that could help smaller family farms make a little extra revenue," Menasco said. "I think there are a lot of people that could expand their current production agriculture operation into something that's tourism-related."

While people who run dude ranch-style operations could benefit from the workshop, she said, it's targeted toward things like U-pick operations, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, winery tours, bed-and breakfast operations and even on-farm events such as dinners and concerts.

The workshop will include an assessment of participants' current operation, what resources they have and what they could be used for from an agritourism standpoint.

The workshop will include speakers who are already running successful agritourism operations and government and private industry experts will discuss liability issues and planning and zoning regulations.

One of the speakers, Randy Feist, said there is an opportunity for farmers to earn extra revenue through agritourism. But he also cautions it isn't something people should jump into without first knowing exactly what they're doing.

"It's farming, but it's also retail," said Feist, owner of Linder Farms, a popular corn maze near Meridian that just wrapped up its eighth year. "You're dealing with hopefully 20,000 to 40,000 people coming through your place, and that's a challenge."

Feist said this year was the best revenue year his corn maze has had, "and I'm hoping I broke even. I have a lot of revenue but a lot of expenses also. I have a couple hundred thousand dollars in expenses that most people probably would never think about."

Menasco said if there is enough interest, ISDA officials hope to create agritourism farm loops similar to those in some other states. These loops include agritourism operations that work together to promote each other.

The workshop will be held at the ISDA office in Boise from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The $20 registration fee includes lunch. For more information, contact Menasco at lacey.menasco@agri.idaho.gov or (208) 332-8538, or go to www.agri.idaho.gov.

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