Highland EDA Discusses Agri-tourism Initiatives
Monterey, VA – According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Commonwealth is losing more than 200 farms – mostly small farms – every year. The Extension attributes the loss to rising expenses, low commodity prices, industrialization and globalization.
Virginia wants to help farms survive by teaching farmers to incorporate agritourism into their farm operations. Agritourism is the practice of attracting tourists to an area used primarily for agricultural purposes. Examples of agritourism include bed and breakfasts; camp sites; youth camps; farm vacations; rental cabins; weddings, receptions and honeymoons; music festivals; holiday celebrations and winery tours.
Virginia and its agencies have launched a major effort to develop agritourism in the Commonwealth’s western counties. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Cooperative Extension sponsored a series of workshops to teach local communities about the concept last year.
During the November 21 meeting of the Highland County Economic Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce executive director Carolyn Pohowsky discussed two campaigns to develop agritourism in the region: the Virginia Artisans Trail and Fields of Gold.
Pohowsky talks about the Artisan’s Trail.
“The Artisans Center of Virginia is establishing a statewide network of artisans trails to strengthen local economies and build cultural tourism by developing coordinated marketing campaigns, featuring Virginia’s artisans and agritourism businesses.
“Agri-artisans include any agricultural-based business, such as family farms, vinyards, wineries – obviously, maple producers – organic farming, that sort of thing, orchards” she said. “
Pohowsky added that the Virginia Tourism Commission had awarded $5,000 for the Chamber to market a regional artisan’s trail.
The Alleghany Foundation, located in Covington, was established with proceeds from the sale of Alleghany Regional Hospital in 1995. The foundation supports projects to improve healthcare, education, recreation, economic development, arts and humanities and historic preservation in western Virginia.
Pohowsky says the foundation awarded a generous grant to help develop the Artisans Trail in Highland and neighboring counties.
Virginia’s Western Highland Travel Council, which is a partnership of Alleghany, Bath, Craig and Highland County, has received a grant of $26,700 from the Alleghany Foundation for the development of a regional artisans trail,” she said.
The Central Shenandoah Planning District, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth including Highland and four other counties, has launched another initiative to develop agritourism in the region, called Fields of Gold.
Pohowsky discusses Fields of Gold.
“The Fields of Gold – it’s a regional and inter-regional partnership with the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission and there are 10 localities involved,” she said. “Scott Smith and I have been asked to represent the county on a steering committee. The objective is to establish a regional program that will create and preserve jobs in the two key industries in our area – agriculture and tourism. The project will focus on the economic development opportunities in the region by partnering these two industries.”
The director said Fields of Gold is in the initial planning stages to develop a three to five year agritourism development plan. Part of the planning process is to collect information from farmers and other businesses in the area. Pohowsky distributed a copy of an agritourism survey to be distributed to Highland County businesses. The survey can be completed online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Fields_of_Gold.