Our two-year SARE grant, “Putting Pike on the Map” involved the development of a map to create marketing opportunities for local farmers and agritourism sites in Pike County, Georgia. The map was produced with the help of numerous volunteers who gathered data, wrote copy, created the graphics and transported the finished product of 50,000 copies. The Map and its companion website www.pikepathways.org became the catalyst for greater community awareness of fresh, locally-grown produce and the possibilities of economically viable, sustainable agriculture in Pike County. Instead of the mistaken notion that “farming is over in Pike County” now we hear “It’s not dead, it’s changing!”
The two-year project to develop an agritourism map for Pike County created an impact that far exceeded our initial plans. The first year saw much developmental work in order to produce the four-color map of Pike’s agricultural, tourist and historic sites. Instead of a groundswell of enthusiastic participants we found we needed to undertake a recruitment and education effort to get farmers to list their enterprises. This process introduced many to the idea of marketing their products to a wider consumer base than their immediate communities. We were pleased with the final result of listing over 30 farms and agritourism sites on the map. This product turned out to be an excellent rebuttal to the notion that development pressures from nearby Atlanta are making farming obsolete. The history portion included information about Pike’s agricultural past and helped to link today’s farming to its cultural roots. During the second year, we focused on distributing the Map through Georgia’s Welcome Centers and developing a companion website, www.pikepathways.org. Locally, it was adopted by our Chamber of Commerce and is now included in their PR and Welcome Wagon kits. The Map has contributed to a resurgence of interest in our local agriculture and begun a dialog about the transformation of conventional farming to more sustainable farms. We have used it as a platform to demonstrate Pike’s interest in agritourism and farming and attracted state and local workshops on these subjects. Our farmers market, Market on the Square is now moving into its fourth year with the enthusiastic support of many of the producers and consumers who supported this project.
The primary objective of this project was to create a marketing tool to bring more consumers of fresh food and value-added products to our farmers. The map was completed and ready for distribution in October 2003. We did not anticipate the technical complexity of this project. It could not have been done without the volunteers who offered an exceptional level of artistic and technical expertise in the design and production of the map. Thanks to them it was completed on time and on budget. The map was distributed statewide through the network of Georgia’s Welcome Centers. Locally, it is available at our Courthouse and most local businesses. It is one of the main PR pieces for our Chamber of Commerce and is included in every Welcome Wagon kit.
A secondary objective was to introduce and educate farmers in sustainable techniques, diversification and alternative crops. We held several well-attended workshops to introduce our producers and consumers to sustainable farming and to the possibilities of value-added enterprises.
The process of recruiting map participants and distributing the map met our secondary goals of developing a partnership among the farm and non-farm communities of the area and introducing our farmers to sustainable and value-added concepts. The process created a community of local consumers and producers who supported the concept of locally grown, fresh food. The Map became the centerpiece of the Market on the Square and we saw an increase in awareness of ag enterprises in our county and a growing customer base from several adjacent counties. The second year saw the development of our companion website, and the continuation and growth of Market on the Square. We used the Map to attract a state-sponsored workshop on agritourism that was well attended by our producers. We are currently revisiting our Map participants and assisting them to develop or link their established websites onto our site. A prototype sign has been designed to advertise individual farms listed on the Map, however the implementation was delayed until we successfully changed the County’s zoning ordinance to allow for commercial signs in the A-R District.
The over-riding impact of the project has been the very beginning of a renaissance for agriculture in Pike County. There is a growing sense among residents, farmers and policy makers that agriculture still has a place at the table in economic development and land use decisions in the county. Many of the volunteers that supported the Map project are becoming involved in sustainable and agritourism initiatives throughout the county including work with the County’s Agribusiness Authority, the Farm Bureau and FFA. The community has been introduced to the value of locally grown food and the potential of agritourism as a way to preserve the rural character of the county. The local farmers market, Market on the Square has completed its third season and is becoming a Saturday morning institution for the community. Consumers are beginning to become educated regarding sustainable farming and are investigating the possibility of creating a CSA.
In essence, the Map has put Pike County “on the map” throughout the region as a community that values and supports agricultural innovation. The impact of receiving a SARE grant provided an important psychological and financial endorsement for the many folks who wanted to introduce a sustainable agricultural model for our community. The Map is a tangible, organizing tool for this process and hopefully, will reflect the success of this initiative by growing additional producers and consumers in our region.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The Map is available at numerous sites around the County and at all the Welcome Centers throughout Georgia. We continue to fulfill requests for restocking at these venues. The Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority include the map in all their PR packages and link the web-based version to their site. We have been asked to assist a regional effort to replicate the map. We initially thought there would be greater circulation opportunities available by linkages to other websites, but it has been difficult to identify them. This may also be a function of our lack of familiarity with the web. The electronic version makes good economic sense because it can be updated for little cost, however we find that many people prefer to have the actual map in hand as they travel around the county. The plan is to develop our expertise with the web and concentrate on updating the web version of the map. In addition, we will explore the possibility of the map participants funding an updated paper version. We would also like to finish the signage project now that the County’s ordinances allow signs in the A-R District. This reflects our conclusion that effective marketing remains a critical, and underutilized link in the success of agritourism ventures.