Combine the words agriculture and tourism, and you’ll come up with the very meaning of agritourism.
But considering the diversity of agriculture-related locations, activities and events that are becoming increasingly available throughout Georgia, the term can be a little difficult to pinpoint. Cornfield mazes and pick-your-own produce may be at the forefront of what falls within the concept, but today the state’s agritourism sector includes much more.
It’s going beyond the wineries, Christmas tree farms and fall festivals, says Cindy Norton, agritourism manager of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
For instance, she says, “There are some places that have zip lining and others that offer trail riding – more off-the-farm kind of stuff. And there are things like farm stays, where people can actually go and stay on a farm and help with chores. You’d be surprised at how many people pay to come and actually do work. But they want to learn; they want to experience new things.”
Healthy and Local
The department began its agritourism program in 2008, issuing road signs to qualified operations to help promote the state’s agriculture and tourism industries. Part of Norton’s job is to identify these various places.
“My main thing is just creating a list of what we have out here,” Norton says. “There are the bigger sites that everybody tended to know or hear about, but there are the mom-and-pop places, too.”
The attraction of agritourism can be traced to the recent recession from around 2007 to 2008, according to Norton.
“People were staying home looking for something to do,” she says. “They were also looking to be healthier and eat local foods. Plus, you get grandparents looking back at what they did when they were children, taking their grandchildren to places with them.”
G.W. Long Farm in Bainbridge is a good example of a traditional farming operation that has expanded into agritourism with a U-pick operation they started 30 years ago. Today, the farm includes a market, flower sales, farm tours and much more.
Ice Cream up Close
Those places are, indeed, the farms and rural sites of Georgia, but they are also destinations such as Leopold’s Ice Cream in Savannah. It may not seem to fit
traditional agritourism, but the iconic ice cream parlor has made a recent addition that lets customers take in more than just the multitude of flavors offered.
They can now see how the ice cream is made. Leopold’s opened a 4,500-square-foot creamery in 2015 that gives the experience a whole new dimension.
“The creamery is open for tours, and we can explain some of the process,” says Stratton Leopold, second-generation owner of the business opened by his father in 1919.
Visitors can watch as the cream goes into a batch freezer, a large version of a home ice cream maker, and then view other steps before the product is placed into a flash freezer for hardening.
Leopold had guidance from the department’s food safety division in installing the creamery.
“They were involved since the very beginning,” he says, “just to advise us because this is something we haven’t done before, not on this scale.”
A ‘Go-to Destination’
If Leopold’s has taken the ice cream shop to the sector of agritourism, then Kelly Products is doing something similar with the community grocery store.
The company, a leading provider of essential information and automation solutions to the agribusiness industry, has recently opened Farmview Market in Madison. It will house a specialty grocery, a full-service butcher shop and a farm-to-table café. An open-air farmers market will open in the spring of 2016, and the facility is anchored by two historic barns that will offer interactive experiences.
“Our goal with this is to be a go-to destination for great local food, promoting a sustainable, local food economy,” says Laura Rotroff, marketing and communications manager for Kelly Products.