BEST Center: Agritourism is the region’s new golden goose

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BATAVIA — Driving down the road today, you are probably enjoying the beautiful fall leaves.

But what else are you driving by? If you are anywhere in the GLOW region (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans or Wyoming counties), you are likely also seeing our No 1. industry — agriculture — at its finest.

There are more than 740,000 acres of farmland in our region, which is 10 percent of all farmland statewide, and its right here for you to enjoy — all year round.

Enter, Agritourism!

The agricultural industry is carving out a unique niche in the tourism industry and agri-tourists are loving it. Genesee Community College just hosted the region’s first Agri-Tourism Symposium and bought together tourism experts, successful local farmers, budding start-ups, and interested individuals to explore the Agritourism industry and the opportunities it presents. The event was free and featured keynote speaker Dr. Sophie Winter assistant professor of Agribusiness from SUNY Cobleskill.

In addition, three regional panelists shared their own personal business experience. Chad Heeb, director of marketing from New York Chips/ Marquart Farms, Betty Burley, owner of East Hill Creamery, and Barbara Dominesey, the general manager of Hidden Valley Animal Adventure participated by telling their personal stories and journey about establishing an agri-tourism business. The program concluded with a special “Meet, Greet and Eat” reception, of course featuring local bounty.

Attendees first heard Dr. Winter’s presentation on “Evolution, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Agri-Tourism,” which broke down the steps businesses need to take to jump into the agritourism industry. She highlighted key items that tend to be overlooked by beginners, as well as some powerful reminders in how to make a new venture profitable.

“Successful businesses are positioning agritourism as a powerful way to offset the financial impact felt in agricultural industries and it is working for them, in a big way,” Winter said. “Offering workshops and classes that boast the natural beauty of each season all year round and charging money for them, has proven [to be] a big impact to the bottom line.”

From there, each panelist told the story of their individual agritourism journey and highlighted not only the successes they’ve found, but the challenges and the directions of their businesses.

What does Agritourism look like? The list of farm-based entertainment and recreational opportunities is endless and changes as much as the seasons they flourish in. Let’s start with the fall.

 With 114 orchards in the GLOW region spread over 6,000 acres, you can pick your own apples, witness a real cider press and try the heirloom apple varieties. Don’t forget about the seasonal pumpkin-spice beer and delicious hard ciders.

 Pumpkins! Almost as hard as choosing the right pumpkin is picking where to get it. From the road-side farm stands to amazing all-day experiences like the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence or Stokoe Farms in Scottsville, pumpkins are everywhere. With sweet treats and hand-made crafts and decorations, fall is a great time to get out and experience the corn mazes, hayrides and more.

 Culminating in the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations, there are harvest and fall festivals nearly every weekend this time of year. While shrouded in spooky and Halloween décor, these events are the literal harvest of the Agritourism industry.

Let’s face it, the snow is coming … and with it, a new agri-tourist delights — Christmas trees and winter activities.

 As the iconic Chevy Chase once said, “We are kicking off our fun, old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.”

And so, with more than 900 acres of the GLOW region growing Christmas trees, many families will follow the tradition again this year.

 Winter is also one of the times critical calving takes place. There are over 215,000 head of cattle in the GLOW region contributing to the major dairy business for which the area is known. While some of us are huddled inside staying warm, the farmers and agrarians in our communities are ensuring the next generation of livestock will thrive.

 Hidden Valley finds its proximity to snowmobile trails beneficial, and cross country skiing poses additional opportunities.

Spring is often the time we notice our local farms cranking up business.

 As planting and soil preparations are underway, apple blossom season can be more breathtaking than the fall foliage.

 School children often participate in class field trips to visit farms and see milking operations, cheese and yogurt plants and even get to meet and pet the cattle.

By summer, farmers are in the barns and fields from sun up to sun down.

 Agritourists love a good local Farmer’s Market to see and taste the fruits of the agrarian’s labor and bring it home with them. From the early fresh garden greens to the first sweet corn, summer’s bounty is a multi-month blessing

 Did you save room for desert? Ice-cream shops and frozen-yogurt stands are part of the agritourism movement. Farmers are opening stands and offering tastings to draw in visitors, some on bicycles, motorcycles or tricycles.

The Agri-Tourism symposium ended with a unique “Vote for Your Favorite” contest between two new ice cream flavors that were suggested by GCC business students, and then created by Yummy’s in Warsaw. Although the apple maple cinnamon bun was absolutely delicious, it was the red velvet white chocolate cheese cake that won.

The bottom line is that agritourism in the GLOW region is clearly a winner all year long. Occupying more than seven million acres throughout the state and generating more than $100 billion in direct spending last year, farmland and agritourism is a gold mine of opportunity for the agricultural industry.

“Our region offers some of the best agritourism opportunities available,” said Professor Amy Slusser of GCC’s Tourism and Hospitality Management Program.d. “Our symposium brought it all together in a showcase for everyone to see. Now is the time for agritourism in upstate New York.”

For more information about GCC’s tourism degree, contact Slusser at (585) 343-0055, ext. 6332, or via email: alslusser@genesee.edu.

Genesee Community College and its BEST Center offer many services to support business development, employee training and certifications, and through its academic divisions, students of all ages can also earn related certificates and associate degrees. the natural sciences concentrations in biology, chemistry, environmental biology and physics offer an excellent start to a four-year degree in the agricultural industry.

For producers, the BEST Center’s “Introduction to Precision Agriculture Certificate” provides insight into the latest technologies. In an on-site classroom or through live, video, web conferencing, participants gain a better understanding of how agronomy and farm operations can be improved through precision-agricultural processes.

Additionally, as an approved NYS CTLE (education recertification credits) sponsor, the BEST Center offers numerous opportunities for educators with coursework that meets the updated NYS Education Requirement for Science curriculum including science, technology, engineering and mathematics for grades K-12.

For more information on The BEST Center’s many programs and services, grant opportunities, to schedule an appointment to meet with a BEST Center representative or to learn of training opportunities, contact (585) 345-6868 or visit our website at www.bestcenter.org today.

 

 

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