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Groups Partner to Build Farm, Ecology Tourism
Pick your own apples or grapes. Dump a load of cotton. Pack some peaches or peppers. Herd some calves. Go shrimping. Or just walk in a peanut field.

A new statewide initiative wants farmers, landowners and land managers to think of ways to combine the top two industries of Georgia, agriculture and tourism, into sustainable moneymaking ventures.

In July 2001, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences partnered with the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism to develop a statewide agricultural and ecological tourism program.

Officials estimate that properly developed farm-related tourism could exceed $1 billion in Georgia.

"It's a combined effort with education and marketing help from the state," said Gulcin Brown, CAES agri-eco tourism coordinator. "This is an organized effort to establish agri-eco-tourism in Georgia."

With the future of farming facing many challenges, she said, opportunities like this can help farmers diversify their operations and ride out downturns in commodity prices.

Market and develop

Some Georgia farmers, large and small, already offer seasonal tours.

"Our objective is to cooperate with landowners," Brown said. "If they have an ongoing tourism business, we can help them get the word out. If they have an idea they'd like to pursue, we can help them develop it. We can coordinate their efforts in hopes of bringing them more visibility and marketing."

"Some big landowners are converting lands to eco-based tourism, such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and hiking trails," she said. "These landowners have land they actively farm. Part of the tour could be to look at the fields and plants. This ties the two: nature and agricultural tourism."

There's agri-interest. Tour companies already call Georgia visitors' centers and ask about on-farm tours. "Those calls get directed to us," Brown said. "We give information on who is offering farm tours."

Region by region

The initiative is now organizing groups to explore specific regions of the state for potential tourist attractions.

"We want to learn about the region and bring back ideas and thoughts to support the development of a sustainable agri-eco tourism program for the area," she said.

A tour of southwest Georgia counties took place Sept. 5-6. The tour was in support of previous research by Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc., in Blakely, Ga. Other tours will look at north and coastal Georgia.

"We want to explore the regions," she said, "and bring back ideas and thoughts to support the development of a sustainable agri-eco-tourism for the state."

For more information, call Gulcin Brown at (229) 386-3800 or the GDITT at (800) 847-4842. Or e-mail Brown at gbrown@tifton.cpes.peachnet.edu.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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