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Winter a great time to enjoy agritourism opportunities

Arkansas

Arkansas farms aren't just warm-weather operations, or destinations, for that matter. During the winter months, many of these facilities remain open for agritourism opportunities, a growing trend in agriculture nationwide.

Haven't heard of agritourism? As Stacey McCullough with Community and Public Development at the University of Arkansas Extension Service Public Policy Center tells us, it's a way to increase the use and function of Arkansas' farms.

"In an effort to diversify their agricultural operations and meet the demand of families and groups who are interested in getting away from the bustle of their everyday lives, more and more farmers are adding on-farm entertainment, recreational, educational and shopping activities to attract visitors."

On the surface, agritourism might just seem like an opportunity to visit a farm and view a crop. But it's about far more than that.

"Winter agritourism activities include Christmas tree farms, winter farmers' markets, festivals, hunting and fishing, equine activities, agricultural museums, heritage skills workshops, winery tours, honey farms and others," says McCullough.

Many of these farms offer a place to stay for the night or a chance to dine on the farm. But those that don't aren't left out of the trend.

"Even if an operation doesn't have lodging, families can combine agritourism activities with the exploration of nearby towns," says McCullough. "Arkansas is fortunate because our rural communities have unique and wonderful hidden treasures that are waiting to be explored.

Town squares are typically alive with lights, activities and unique shopping opportunities in the winter. Local lodging can range from bed and breakfasts, quaint motels, and rustic lodges to chain hotels."

The opportunities for agritourism in our state are wide and varied--and include all sorts of activities for all ages.

"The sky is the limit on what is currently being offered in Arkansas. Many farms offer tours and activities for school groups. There are petting zoos that appeal to all ages, haunted attractions for thrill seekers, and nature viewing opportunities for those looking for quiet enjoyment. Some venues host weddings, family reunions, and retreats. There are working farms where people can experience hands-on an agricultural way of life. Arkansas agritourism truly offers something for everyone."

Winter is a great time for starting up new agritourism efforts. And there are many organizations that are prepared to help jumpstart new operations and activities.

"As this trend has grown, several state entities have been working together to provide a support system for agritourism operators and promote the industry over the past two years," says McCullough.

"The Arkansas Agritourism Initiative was formally launched in July 2008. It is a partnership between the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, National Agricultural Law Center, Arkansas Agriculture Department, and Arkansas Farm Bureau. Representatives from these organizations have held a number of workshops and made presentations around the state to build awareness about agritourism in Arkansas. Studies are also underway to better understand the economic impact of the agritourism industry in Arkansas, as well as the needs of those engaged in or interested in becoming engaged agritourism enterprises. A strategic plan is also being developed to guide the Initiative's efforts for the future."

So whether you're interested in creating new agritourism activities with your farm operation, or are simply interested in finding that new farm-based adventure for a weekend getaway, winter is the time to get things started.

If you're interested in finding out more, check out the Arkansas Agritourism Institute's website at www.arkagritourism.org, or contact your local Extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is a part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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Date: 1/15/09



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