The Conservation Fund, in partnership with Duplin County Cooperative Extension Service and the Southeastern North Carolina Agri-Tourism Development Coalition, was awarded a generous grant of $7,000 from the 2002 Southern Region SARE program and the Southern Rural Development Center. The funds were awarded to support a two-year project designed to develop four agri-tourism trails and trail maps that link agri-tourism businesses in a 9-county area in southeastern North Carolina. The maps were envisioned as a means of marketing and showcasing agri-tourism businesses, and of stimulating the development of other related spin-off businesses and new agri-tourism businesses.
The Southeastern North Carolina Agri-Tourism Corridor Development Project has been an outstanding success. It has helped to bring together farmers and landowners, and provide the educational, technical assistance and marketing needed by existing and potential agri-tourism businesses. It is providing new hope for farmers who have increasingly been concerned about sustainable farm incomes, and it is helping to preserve a way of life, agri-culture. We greatly appreciate the Southern SARE program’s support of this initiative that is helping to revitalize thirteen counties that are highly dependent on agricultural revenues. Thank you again for your generous investment in southeastern North Carolina!
Shortly after receiving notification of the SARE grant, the Duplin County Cooperative Extension Service partnered with the North Carolina Arts Council and HandMade in America (a nonprofit sustainable development organization) to jointly request funding support for agri-tourism development from the Golden LEAF Foundation. Funds totaling $325,000 were secured from the Foundation, to provide support for research and development of existing and potential agri-tourism venues, including roadside markets, farm tours, vacation- and working farms, bed-and-breakfast operations, farm-related fishing and hunting preserves, campsites, craft cooperatives, and traditional cooking establishments. These funds are providing the matching funds for the above-referenced SARE project.
The scale of the Golden LEAF-funded “AgriCultural Tourism” project, the addition of new partners, and the broader geographic scope of the second project has required adjustments to the time schedule for the SARE project. Likewise, when Nancy Hunt left The Conservation Fund’s employ, the project management responsibilities were shifted to the Duplin County Cooperative Extension Service, in order to provide on-the-ground work with farmers, business owners and other project partners.
As a result of these timeline and scope of work adjustments, the Southeast AgriCultural Tourism Task Force project team has been able to devote more time to in-depth research and inventory efforts and to complete an assessment of existing agri- and cultural tourism sites in thirteen southeastern North Carolina counties: Duplin, Sampson, Greene, Lenoir, Pender, Onslow, Craven, Pamlico, Wayne, Carteret, Jones, New Hanover, and Brunswick. Accomplishments to date include:
• Asset Mapping and Inventory: In the thirteen county project area, the Duplin County Cooperative Extension Service has taken the lead in developing the asset database. Project staff worked closely with Extension agents in all the counties to develop an inventory of existing operations. To date, 471 sites have been identified, given technical assistance, verified, and qualified against established criteria. These sites will sign a covenant to participate in the trail project and to maintain an established level of quality and service to visitors.
• Technical Assistance: The Duplin County Cooperative Extension Service has monitored ventures such as corn mazes and gives landowner consultation and technical tourism-related assistance to wineries, greenhouses, and farmers. Through research and connecting landowners and farmers to other operations across the state and the country, the project team has helped agri-tourism operators develop business plans and fee schedules, address insurance concerns, identify suppliers and develop regional event calendars. Agri-tourism workshops have been offered for farmers, landowners and business owners, to help educate and connect agri-tourism sites and operators.
• Trail Development: Six agri-tourism trails have been established along the I-40 and Highway 70 corridors. As noted in the project proposal, these major highway corridors form the transportation “backbone” of southeastern North Carolina, provide connections to major North Carolina cities, and are home to some of the oldest-operating family farms in our state. Some of our most scenic farms, complete with tobacco barns, outbuildings and antique farming equipment, are located along these trail routes.
• Itinerary Development: The project team has worked with farm- and land-owners and partners to develop itineraries that include restaurants serving food unique to the region, bed-and-breakfast or farm-stay opportunities, farmers’ markets, antique shops and other merchants. Whether it is local produce sold at a craft fair or a photography class at a peanut farm, art and agricultural have been combined with exciting and profitable results.
• Trail Marketing Materials: While the SARE grant request envisioned that the trails would be marketed to visitors through the development of trail brochures, subsequent analysis of traveler preferences indicated that most visitors will find out about the trails via the Internet. As a result, the project team has worked with the NC Arts Council and HandMade in America to develop a web-based trail network that will be entitled: “HomeGrown and HandMade.” The website was completed in June, 2004 and it can be found at http://www.homegrownhandmade.org/.