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Agritourism 101

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

Farm business isn’t just about raising cows, chickens and corn. From family-friendly corn mazes to on-farm demonstrations, Georgia farmers are finding new and unique ways to market their farms to tourists and keep their businesses from going into the red.

This new and ever-growing enterprise has been coined as agritourism and in 2006 it brought some $27.1 million into the state’s economy. Nature-based tourism brought in an additional $50.8 million, according to the University of Georgia’s Georgia Farm Gate Value Report.

To encourage and educate those interested in joining this field, UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development has organized an agritourism conference. Set for Nov. 5 – 6 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, Ga., the conference will include sessions on starting a business, insurance and risk management, taxes and zoning, Web site development and evaluation, signage and marketing.

The conference will also include tours of agritourism operations. “Participants will meet successful owners/operators of agritourism venues, tour their facilities, listen as they share lessons learned, and network with other agritourism advocates,” said Kent Wolfe, a marketing analyst with the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. “This will provide potential operators a time to ‘pick the brains’ of those who operate best in class agritourism destinations.”

Judy Randall of Randall Travel Marketing Inc. will serve as guest speaker for the conference. She will discuss national and international agritourism trends and benchmarks.

The conference is designed for both novice and advanced agritourism operators. While new business owners learn about the nuts and bolts of agritourism, current operators can attend brainstorming sessions on the pros and cons of the industry and learn how to identify programs that promote Georgia’s rich variety of agritourism operations, Wolfe said.

There will also be a session geared specifically to agritourism professionals that work in agriculture, tourism, or community and economic development at the local, state or federal levels.

The conference will also include an exhibitor expo, social networking sessions and a regional resource round table. A round table including representatives from agencies, authorities and various governmental entities will talk about programs and funding available to agritourism owners and operators.

For entertainment, Karen Kimbrel and Joy Jinks of Colquitt, Ga., will share their community’s story of building clusters of businesses around a theatrical production, “Swamp Gravy.”

For more information or to register for the conference, contact Wolfe at 706-542-0752 or Carla Woods at 706-583-0347.

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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