The Rhode Island Center for Agricultural Promotion and Education (RICAPE), in association with its strategic partners – the RI Department of Environmental Management, Division of Agriculture & Marketing (DEM/Ag.) and the University of Rhode Island, Cooperative Extension (URI/CE), has completed a unique a two-year education and research project to enhance the ability of farmers and growers to institute or improve agricultural tourism enterprises and boost on-farm sales of farm products and rural made goods. Our project explored an emerging popular trend in “agritourism” (AT) to determine its scope in Rhode Island, identify local successes and address needs. We believe we have created a successful template for a state-wide agritourism development and marketing initiative.
Within that context, since August of 2004, the Rhode Island Center for Agricultural Promotion and Education (RICAPE) has been providing a variety of professional services and conducting activities on behalf of Rhode Island’s farming community. Framed within a destination marketing campaign called “Rhode Island FarmWays,” these activities have served to assist farm operators to learn about and develop alternative enterprises on farm sites (those activities conducted in addition to usual agricultural practices) for customers, tourists and visitors, and, to market and promote Rhode Island’s farms as places of significant agricultural, ecological, historical, educational and cultural value.
Such activities are commonly called “agritourism,” but RICAPE’s engagement has gone beyond the marketing of RI’s farms as visitor destinations to building critical infrastructure within Rhode Island to support the growth and economic development of an industry (agritourism) in state as part of the rapidly growing nationwide trend in sustaining farm operations. Agritourism and nature-based tourism are among the fastest growing sectors of tourism nationwide.
“Agritourism” is defined as “a commercial enterprise on a working farm conducted for the enjoyment, education and/or active involvement of the visitor.” The farm experience is often enhanced by on-site and nearby historical, cultural and natural attractions and other rural amenities. Each additional attraction and product sale adds to the farmer’s income. Farm products and locally made goods sold to visitors can be a major portion of the farm income generated by the agricultural tourism and direct marketing operation.
Rhode Island’s farmers not only produce crops, raise animals and provide a measure of local foods and greenery, they also preserve and protect natural resources, wildlife, waterways, settings and landscapes, historic buildings, artifacts and culture, and play a considerable role in retaining Rhode Island’s sense of place and quality of life. These assets are not always considered when the value of agriculture to Rhode Island is debated, but they represent the focus of increasing interest to a large and diverse universe of people – young and old, professional and not, tourist and visitor, educator and citizen around the country and right here at home. Our task has been to help farmers identify those assets and frame them in a variety of ways to “package” them as alternative enterprises, activities and/or products on site that can generate additional revenues for the farmer.
Agritourism and alternative enterprises represent an increasing portion of on-farm income nationally, especially where large-scale production or wholesaling of farm products per farm generates less revenue than specialized production and direct marketing at retail. It is our mission to assist our farmers to take advantage of that trend. We focused SARE funding on broadening and reinforcing professional services to Rhode Island’s farms and increasing the number of farms that are served by them. RICAPE is currently providing free and fee-based based technical assistance and professional & skill development services including infrastructure support, site assessments and strategic planning, marketing planning, liaison to the regulatory, financial and insurance communities, business planning, tourism development, program design and deployment, consulting services and research, representation to local town councils and zoning boards, communication and outreach via the RI FarmWays website and newsletters, an economic impact study commencing in 2007, and where financially feasible, providing scholarships and grants.
We believe that sustaining agriculture in Rhode Island will increasingly involve the promotion of agritourism and the development of new on-farm enterprises, products, activities and amenities. Why?
Rhode Island’s agricultural base is at crossroads. Traditional means of generating farm income are no longer enough to sustain economic viability. Without new sources of income; we can expect to lose more of Rhode Island farms. Increasingly, farmers face development pressures, antiquated zoning restrictions, rising costs, climate and weather related issues, the highest land values per agricultural acre in the United State ($11,000) and an average age of 55 years. Without an additional financial incentive, it is anticipated that family members or the younger generation following today’s farmers will not move into agriculture. The threat of further loss of farms and rural lands is great. Between 1960 and 1997, RI lost half of its farmland.
In addition, there is little land left to simply expand production volume. Too little production volume reduces the value of wholesaling large quantities to distributors and institutional buyers. A diverse mix of popular and higher-end products that can be sold at retail and on site fee-based activities do now and portend the greater income potential.
Some farmers markets are experiencing declining traffic. More local and organic foods can be found at supermarkets and even in big box stores like Wal-Mart. More farmers are expressing an interest in doing business on their farm sites where they can increase per person sales by offering other activities and amenities.
The selling of development rights to preserve farms and farmland and create ready cash is experiencing diminishing returns. There are fewer federal and state dollars for farmland purchases and the process can take years to consummate while the amount being offered by developers for land generally far exceeds the development rights sale value.
Agritourism in Rhode has been underdeveloped. Until RICAPE’s initiative, there was no in-state infrastructure to support farm site development or AT as an industry. Despite myriad opportunities and some on farm successes, it’s clear that many farms still offer a limited menu of activities and amenities that might draw visitors and expand revenues.
Conversely, the potential to increase farm income through these enterprises and activities is great. There are dozens of activities and alternative enterprises that can be customized for and conducted on farm sites that can generate revenues. Some estimates suggest that increases of 10-80% of gross on farm income are associated with expanded agritourism activity from enterprises above and beyond crop and livestock production.
AT/alternative enterprises add value to the farm. Farmers across the country, in Canada, Europe and elsewhere have discovered that AT in fact, gives farm sites additional visibility and accessibility that they would not have otherwise, builds business and community connections, improves cash flow, extends the seasons, can enhance agricultural assets and activities and strengthen sustainability, creates jobs and community income, provides a broader market base for local businesses, and attracts other businesses and small industries (Research from the British Columbia Agritourism Association) The growth of Agritourism, in fact, suggests that in a tourism sense, the farm itself has become a saleable “product” – economically equal to, if not potentially above and beyond the farm’s usual “product lines” – food, greenery, etc.
Rhode Island’s farms have assets beyond the abundant array of locally produced food and greenery that draw people to them. Despite our size, there is an incredible variety of experience for the senses and the soul available. Farms preserve and protect many of the things few of us would want to live without, such as beautiful landscapes and settings, open space and woodlands, waterways and wildlife – all of which are part of the AT package. Rhode Island’s farms are also very rich in history and have significant cultural and educational value for people of every age and inclination – value that is enhanced when it becomes part of the farm’s product, program and/or service offerings. And in many cases farms cannot be beat for spirited recreational activity that has only begun to be tapped. Each of these “assets” can be woven into fee-based activities and amenities not always associated with visits to a farm, farm stand or farmers market
A diverse mix of partners is collaborating to make AT successful in Rhode Island. Since 2004, RICAPE has assembled key decision makers to provide financing, technically support and expertise to the Rhode Island AT initiative and RI’s farmers.
AT fits the already successful direct marketing model in Rhode Island. Despite our size, RI ranks second in the nation (to Massachusetts) in per farm sales direct to the public. In a small state like RI, direct marketing means that rather than growing high volume cash crops for the wholesale market, many of our small farmers do better selling direct to consumers from farmers markets or their own farms and keeping a larger portion of that dollar for themselves. By offering other activities on site, farmers who may not be able to earn enough from their farm work alone can generate additional income that will allow them to hold on to their land, pay their taxes or simply have a more sustainable income and a more ready cash flow. The extra dollars that visitors spend on site are often the difference between a farmer staying in business, having to work another job off the farm, or even selling the farm to developers.
The Federal Government has recognized its value. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Washington DC opened several years ago the Office of Alternative Enterprises and Agritourism as a clearing house for information – much of it still quite new. RICAPE started and expanded the Rhode Island Agritourism initiative through two federal grants – one from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE/USDA) program and the other from the Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program from the USDA Office of Rural Development.
The Tourism community is supportive and proactive. Important to building agritourism as an economic engine for RI’s farms and as evidence of its potential, tourism professionals regard agritourism as a significant new means of diversifying the mix of tourism products and services that they can offer to tour operators in and out of state. Our farms are current and potential destinations for tour buses, organizations, families, leisure travelers and where appropriate, special groups defined by age, interest, education, and income such as Elder Hostel. Ultimately, the tourism community can bring new and expanded business into the state – all of which portends economic benefits to our farmers and to Rhode Island. By visiting RI’s farms and enjoying and paying for a local product or activity, the public can participate in sustaining and keeping them in business for generations to come.
RICAPE is building the infrastructure for success. RICAPE is working collaboratively to develop farm sites for agritourism as well as to engage a wide range of service providers to build critical infrastructure that will provide the needed financial, technical and professional resources to sustain overall agritourism development.
Target: 150 individuals will participate in a variety of educational and networking experiences and applied research projects including workshops, a state/regional conference, and funded demonstration/research projects.
Result: more than 250 individuals have been engaged in this project and its activities since its launch in spring of 2004.
Target: Provide farms and rural businesses with specific information/training programs, consultations, demonstration projects and reference materials
Target: Assist farmers/growers to be better prepared to adopt new agricultural tourism activities and/or improve existing student and visitor experiences and direct marketing methods
Target: Raise the overall awareness among farmers and related agricultural and rural interests about the income generating opportunities associated with profitable AT and direct marketing efforts
Target: Increase the knowledge, skills and confidence level among farmers to engage in successful AT enterprises.
Result: RICAPE has conducted a variety of programs and provides multiple services to assist the agricultural community become more aware and take advantage of trends in agritourism and alternative enterprise development and marketing.
Target: Facilitate agriculture-tourism/hospitality business connections and communication channels which enhance and expand the marketing of farm tour destinations and other visitor experiences.
Results: Critical connections with business and tourism professionals both in state and in the region have been part of RICAPE’s strategy since the beginning of the agritourism initiative now and will continue to be part of the infrastructure around it.
Target: Provide farmers with lesson plans and templates for creating on-farm learning stations for visiting schools, youth groups, families and tour groups.
Result: RICAPE conducted specialty workshops about developing educational programs on site, hosted “Elderhostel” to address farmer’s interests and concerns and has launched year-long learning adventures for students that link them to their communities through the medium of local farms and agriculture.
Result: Assisted with the opening of three farms closed previously to the public including one farm now marketed as “The Learning Farm” established to create an open classroom environment for children, students, the public and professionals alike.
Target: Provide Extension and other outreach educators, service agencies and advocates current information about AT opportunities and issues and methods for farmer/grower outreach education and support.
Result: Senior URI Extension Educator Ernest Morreira is a strategic partner in this initiative and has provided key links to University and other personnel as well as to service agencies and advocates across the state. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has played an important role in assisting farms to develop conservation plans and qualify for conservation funding. Communications mechanisms continue to link this initiative to a broad range of service providers, programs and services, decision makers and the public.
Target: Foster community leadership among farmers, farm service and community development groups, planners and policy makers to positively influence regulations affecting farm operations.
Target: Enlist their participation in achieving the shared vision of RICAPE’s and its strategic partners of creating a strong association of public and private sector collaborators with interest and expertise in supporting farm viability in Rhode Island.
Result: RICAPE has contributed to building new relationships with key stakeholders and decision makers. RICAPE ha s also provided liaison to town councils and zoning boards on farm and community issues. We are also working with Chief of the Division of Agriculture and for 2007, with members of the RI State Assembly to address, update and propose new regulations.
Target: Our culminating performance target is to engage 20% of the workshop participants and conference attendees in the establishment of a RI Institute for Agricultural Tourism and Alternative Enterprises.
Result: This vision for a future center is being explored with a broad base of stakeholders, decision makers, donors and others.
Formally, agritourism has no magnetic north, no one size fits all model. Successful AT enterprises depend as much on the creativity of farmers as they do on any formal structure or rule book. Yet there are lessons being learned.
Since the outset, RICAPE has taken a two-pronged approach. One, to focus on assisting farmers to develop their “products” – the farm site and its activities and amenities. And two, to build infrastructure in state to support the development and marketing of that product and its corresponding industry.
We find that nationally, despite the exponential growth in interest and activity, what is being called “agritourism development” is still somewhat limited to the marketing of farm sites only. As we have discovered, not enough attention has been paid to what happens or should happen to support the growth and development of agritourism as an income-generating industry – on the farm, in state and in the region. For our purposes this would include providing leadership and coordination as well as delivering the kinds of services, research, technical assistance, financing, tax and regulatory assistance and professional development, as well as building the infrastructure necessary to sustain its growth.
Existing models are very few and there a reasons for that. One, the State Departments of Agriculture (RI and some other states have a “Division” of Agriculture as part of some other Department – the RI Department of Environmental Management e.g.) have lost much of their financing. The RI Division of Agriculture budget has been cut 10% per year the past three years. As such, they alone cannot do the heavy lifting needed to provide tools, resources and programs that would assist agritourism as an industry take root more rapidly and successfully. Two, state agency “marketing” efforts refer usually to regulating and moving agricultural commodities. The sophistication and resources needed to adequately develop and “market” farm sites and a variety of connected “products: for their other assets is often outside the pale of state bureaucracies and agencies.
In this respect, RICAPE (an independent 501c3 and not connected to any state agency) and our Rhode Island FarmWays program, is unique. But there are guidepost and fortunately, leaders. The Vermont Farms Association – also a 501c3 non-profit – is the first organization in the nation to have received a federal appropriation for agritourism development in 1997. Their program led the way in building various aspects of infrastructure, a website, and some training programs. RICAPE has spent considerable time with Beth Kennett, founder and Association Chair and has modeled some of its activities on the VT experience.
At every step we have convened and employed the technical support and expertise of key members of the RI agricultural and business communities including: the Chief of the DEM Division of Agriculture; the Director, Natural Resource Conservation Service; the office of the Dean, the College of Environmental and Life Sciences at URI; the office of the President, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation; the office of the President, the Rhode Island Office of Tourism; the seven tourism district managers, chambers of commerce, and other agencies representing small business and economic development, the hospitality, industry, land trusts and historic preservation organizations, as well as zoning and transportation officials, town planners, legislators and others. On this, RICAPE is ahead of the curve nationally.
In addressing needs, we have conducted preliminary site assessments, assisted with strategic planning, provided liaison services to the regulatory, business, financial, tourism sectors, conducted an ongoing series of training programs and workshops and provided technical assistance and professional services for farmers and nature site operators; conducted a comprehensive press and media strategy, launched a branded marketing campaign and website, and conducted communications outreach and presented at myriad conferences, meetings, events etc. arranged by RICAPE or others.
- RICAPE has identified more than 150 farms in Rhode Island as current or potential sites for agritourism and alternative enterprise development. More than 100 farms are currently engaged in activities being coordinated by RICAPE. Another 25 site operators have expressed interest and requested additional information about our program and services. 26 farms are charter members of the RI FarmWays program for 2006 and have web pages on the FarmWays website www.rifarmways.org. Some 40-50 service providers from business, economic development insurance, tourism, marketing and public relations, the media, education, hospitality, energy and waste management have attended or presented at the AT training sessions and/or provided additional services, information, and outreach to RICAPE and participating farms. They continue to maintain professional contacts with farmers and are working with RICAPE to develop new products and services to serve the agricultural community through this initiative.
An example: In 2005, RICAPE collaborated with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to broadcast and promote conservation planning services and grant programs that specifically assist farms and farmers. We positioned these programs to our FarmWays participants to be of value in upgrading aesthetics on farm sites in addition to providing the environmental upgrades the programs require. Aesthetics is a critical part of farm site and landscape development when attracting victors.
From a low of 9 grants in 2004 in which $2M had to be returned to the Federal Government unspent, NRCS in 2005 received 160 applications and awarded more than $3.2M to 55 farmers for Environmental Quality Improvement and Wildlife Habitat Improvement grants.
Specifically, through this SARE project, RICAPE has
Conducted 10 farmer education and professional development and skill building workshops since spring of 2004 with topics ranging from the general principles and current trends in agricultural tourism, to marketing planning, tourism development, hospitality training, education programs, alternative energy and waste systems.
Negotiated a special $250K agritourism loan program with the RI Economic Development Corporation for agritourism and alternative enterprise development to provide loans from $10K-$25K. Larger loans for similar purposes are being made available through First Pioneer Farm Credit.
Established critical connections with tourism professionals both in state and in the region. This has been part of RICAPE’s strategy since the beginning of the agritourism initiative and will continue to be part of the infrastructure around it.
In October of 2004, RICAPE traveled with 16 agriculture and tourism professionals representing each of the six NE states on a full day tour of Vermont of NE farms engaged in agritourism to get a sense of the range and variety of activities taking place.
That spring, after being awarded the USDA/SARE grant, RICAPE convened a meeting of tourism and media professionals to discus the Rhode Island AT initiative and to solicit information, insights and support as to how we might collaborate to help the AT initiative grow. Present at that meeting were representatives from the RIEDC Office of Tourism, the Providence/Warwick Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Newport CVB, the South County Tourism Council, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Warwick EDC Tourism Council, the South County Bed and Breakfast Association, and the Rhode Island Monthly magazine.
Individual meetings were also held with the Johnson and Wales College of Hospitality and Tourism, the East Bay Chamber of Commerce/Tourism Council, the Newport Chamber of Commerce, and with the Block Island Tourism Council. Since that meeting, RICAPE communicates regularly with these and other tourism and chamber of commerce principals who continue to serve as advisors to RICAPE. Several of them participated in RICAPE’s agritourism training series in both 2005 and 2006.
In fall of 2005, RICAPE met with the Program Director for Elderhostel, the world’s largest educational tour organization based in Boston, MA to put RI’s farms in their radar and on their tour agenda for 2007. She later addressed our farmers at RICAPE’s 2006 kickoff training session last winter and has expressed her serious interest in developing with us itineraries for her clients and our farms.
Since 2004, we have worked closely with the President of the RIEDC and its office of Tourism. The Ambassador to the RI Chambers of Commerce and other town Chamber officials are working with us to identity opportunities to bring the chambers into the loop and expand EDC’s commitment and services to RICAPE.
We have begun discussions with the hospitality community in RI to link hotels, inns and B&Bs to our farms though special tour packages that promote RI’s farms as destinations for tourists and others visiting RI and staying at those establishments.
Ongoing, RICAPE is exploring with both SEMAP (Southeastern Massachusetts Agriculture Partnership) and the NE states ways to create regional resource networks, training programs and collaborative marketing opportunities. RICAPE Director Stu Nunnery is also speaking at conferences and events about the RI experience as well as promoting our services to other states and regional organizations.
RICAPE is serving on a specially convened working group started by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council to explore “sustainable tourism,” and “voluntourism” which combines recreational travel with service work opportunities. We deem this a very apt combination for Rhode Island’s farm sites. Voluntourism is another emerging international phenomenon being modeled here after many successful programs the world over.
Finally, this past September, the RICAPE Director attended the National Extension Tourism Conference in Burlington VT.
In addition, RICAPE conducted 65 farm site assessments, 1 strategic plan for a new farm site operation and two “jump starts” – small-scale strategic plans for existing destinations. Overall, three new farm site destinations were opened to the public during the project term.
Conducted a comprehensive print and broadcast media communications and outreach campaign. (See “Publications and Outreach.”)
Serve as liaison for farmers to the regulatory, financial and insurance communities on issues of alternative enterprise development, agritourism and farm site issues. Appeared before town councils, zoning boards and school committees to clarify related issues to community leaders
Consulted on the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce comprehensive plan to expand attention to farms and agriculture issues as part of the economic vitality and quality of life framework in the town.
Awarded 10 scholarships to farm site operators to attend the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association’s national conference in Boston, February 2005.
Received 40 applications for mini-grants proposing AT demonstration projects or training programs in the field.
Awarded 8 mini-grants (from $500-$2000) totaling $11,000 for projects that demonstrated value added, education programming, farm site, access and physical plant upgrades, marketing materials, plant materials and amenities for visitors.
A $54,000 Rural Business Enterprise grant was awarded in 2005 to RICAPE for the Rhode Island FarmWays campaign and has allowed us to: expand the number and scope of site assessments to include fish farms and other aqua/ag/hort sites where food, greenery are produced and/or sold directly to the public; produce a website of farm site destinations; and complete both a marketing planning and a business resource manual for farmers. (Available Jan 2007.)
RICAPE is creating a business model to sustain and augment this initiative long term through memberships in the FarmWays program, corporate sponsorships and advertising, an expanded menu of trainings and professional development programs, product development, media programming and more.
Focus will expand to include energy and waste efficiency, farm site road signage, enabling legislation and the official designation of agriculture/horticulture/aquaculture as a separate “industry cluster” by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.
Other initiatives forward: A farmer-to-community speaker’s bureau and a 2-3 year economic impact study.
The number of participants exceeded substantially the original projections. Rather than a sense of what didn’t work, as a new initiative, we can say that what we did worked. What is needed is more of the same for some time and the continued growth of collaboration and partnership. What is clear is that our farmers will continue to need basic as well as advanced information, training and services to be able to successfully develop and market their farm sites as destinations.
Throughout the project and ongoing, RICAPE has conducted a comprehensive outreach effort and maintained a visible presence in the press and media while encouraging and in some cases assisting farm sites to do the same.
Three e-newsletters have been created including “The Nudge” – a compendium of information and updates designated to encourage farmers and farm service providers and provide resources and tool to keep moving Rhode Island’s agricultural businesses forward.
The website launched in June through USDA/RBEG funding also provided the platform for the “Fence Post” – a bi monthly e-newsletter for the public and farm site visitors. We also created “The Charter” – a newsletter especially for those 26 farms that were charter members in the RI FarmWays program for 2006 and who have web pages on the website.
More than 250 citizens receive “The Fence Post” e-newsletter while more than 1000 farmers, farm service providers, stakeholders, donors and others receive “The Nudge.” Informal surveys indicate that visits to farm sites have been inspired and increased by our work.
Though not financed by SARE, our companion website provides an easy to use searchable website that showcases farm and nature site attractions, activities and amenities and a seasonal calendar of events. A special section on the website provides RI Farm Ways member farms and nature site attractions with their own web page where they can promote their farms with pictures and information about activities and visitor amenities. Members also have access to support services, materials, resources and links and receive special member rates on future training programs and publications.
The RDW Group in Providence RI worked with us to complete a RI FarmWays logo and branding elements for the campaign and is assisting RICAPE with a corporate donor program to attract sponsorships for a range of FarmWays projects and events for 2006 and 2007.
Last winter, an article about Rhode Island FarmWays and prepared by RIEDC Tourism appeared in the 2006 Group Tour Magazine – with a circulation to professional tour operators of more than 15,000. RICAPE is working with EDC take advantage of other such opportunities to reach out to tour professionals both in print and at regional and national tourism conferences and conventions as identified.
Lead articles about the initiative have appeared in the Providence Business News and in the Providence Journal as well as numerous local papers. Several radio interviews and television interviews conducted on two local national affiliates and the local PBS station have been conducted during the term of the project. News of our work has traveled across country via the AP. Commentaries have been written by the RICAPE Director for the newspapers.
For the very first time during “Tour RI,” an annual May tour of RI’s tourist destinations for Rhode Islanders, a special “farm tour” bus hosted by the project leader visited five RI farm sites. This has now become an official element of future “Tours Rhode Island.”
The project leader has presented at numerous conferences, meetings and conclaves including the “Power of Place Summit” in Rhode Island convened by Grow Smart Rhode Island to jumpstart implementation of Rhode Island’s recently adopted state land-use plan, “Land Use 2025.”
The Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor Leadership Program has invited us in both 2005 and 2006 to present to their most recent graduates in the program.
We are confident that our outreach, media work and presentations have brought the issues of Rhode Island farmers and the potential for their value to RI as well as their growth and sustainability to citizens, stakeholders and decision makers alike.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
- This project has successfully made the case to beneficiaries, stakeholders and the public alike that sustaining agriculture in Rhode Island will increasingly involve the promotion of agritourism and the development of new on-farm enterprises, products, activities and amenities; that RI’s farms are small businesses that must be run using sound business practices if they are to succeed and be able to successfully utilize resources and services designed to assist them; that farm sites are attractive to visitors above and beyond the production and sale of food and greenery; that alternative enterprises that generate revenues bring into play additional values not only to the farm but also to the communities in which they are found -quality and pride of place, connections to nature, appreciation for history, culture, education, ecology and recreation; that the potential to generate/increase income on Rhode Island’s farms is significant.
Farmers are better able to identify new issues and new ways of thinking about farms and farm businesses.
RI’s farms and farmers are more visible and accessible to the press and media and the public.
The agricultural community’s issues and values are now in the radar of the public as well as key decision makers in the hospitality/tourism, business, and government, education and public relations sectors.
A larger community of like minded and like directed individuals, organizations and citizens are increasingly aware of the value of Rhode Island’s farms.
New assets, resources, services and service providers have been identified that will assist farmers to design and develop alternative enterprises, activities, amenities, products and/or services and that can generate additional revenues
An infrastructure designed for success is being built. New business, education and service partnerships and linkages are being brokered and key decision makers are being engaged to provide financing, technical support and expertise to Rhode Island farmers and to this initiative. Note: during the recent RI gubernatorial campaign, Lt Governor Charles Fogarty made “growing agritourism” an important element of his farm preservation platform. Unfortunately, Mr. Fogarty lost a very close election to the incumbent – himself a supporter of RI’s agriculture. Nevertheless, we will continue to work with Mr. Fogarty and the Governor-elect in employing their views and connections to support our efforts.
A business model in the design and delivery of our programs and services has evolved. In recognizing the unique assets and contributions each farm makes to Rhode Island, we have been able to afford farmers the opportunity and the tools needed to learn new skills, and both attain and assert the power essential to conduct a range of successful enterprises that allow them to remain vital, viable and in place.
A successful model of partnership and collaboration has emerged that reinforces for our beneficiaries that there is a broad range of support and consideration being given to their needs and concerns.
Relations between the University of Rhode Island and our farmers and farm service providers have been strengthened. Other SARE-funded projects at the University have been generated by the project partners including two-year support for a sustainable agriculture specialist in the field – the first such agent in RI in more than a decade.
Ultimately, we believe that through this initiative, RI’s farmers and growers are better equipped to lead the farm community in the development of new endeavors and to capitalize on the exceptional economic success of Rhode Island’s tourist industry and the untapped potential of in and out-of-state demographics and special audiences.
Together, we have increased the visibility and accessibility of Rhode Island farms to a greater visitor audience both in and out of state. Rhode Island’s farms are beginning to be seen as significant destinations in the New England region. Working with the local, regional, national and international tourism community the flow of people and groups of diverse interests and inclinations to Rhode Island’s farms will increase. We believe that farm income from agritourism and alternative enterprises will increase by 20-40% over the next three years.
New Legislative and regulatory policies and initiatives will be spawned and/or updated to better reflect the scope and diversity of agriculture as it is today.
Key partnerships and collaborations among groups serving Rhode Island’s farms are working toward eliminating duplication of effort and inefficiencies while supporting autonomy and innovation. We are working to see that it will be the policy of the State of Rhode Island to provide base funding to support the activities of organizations outside the state apparatus that provide essential services to the agricultural community.
Long term: We predict that the tide of farm closings will subside and more RI farms will remain in place – profitably. New farmers will be drawn to Rhode Island’s lands and establish new farmsteads. Additional voices for agriculture will emerge. Ultimately, Rhode Island farmers and farm managers along with policymakers, educators, citizens and community leaders will act in concert to manage and keep viable RI’s agricultural assets and resources, restore a pride of place, reinforce the connections between people and agriculture, inspire agricultural jobs, careers and community service, build awareness and engagement, and secure our quality of life.
Areas needing additional study
We do not have sufficient data at this time to make significant adjustments in our strategy or in the delivery of services so we are seeking funding to engage the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) New Hampshire office to customize and conduct an economic impact study of Rhode Island’s agritourism and alternative enterprise activity. We intend for this study to begin in late winter, early spring 2007 just prior to the growing season. Agritourism season here begins near Father’s Day and continues though the holiday season.
In 2002 the NASS conducted the first economic impact study of agritourism for the state of Vermont through the Vermont Farms Association. That study had a limited field of inquiry which we intend to expand to more accurately reflect the Rhode Island experience and activity and provide recommendations for growth.
It is also our intention to work with NASS to assist us to develop our own data gathering vehicles that we can use in the field in order to afford us the broadest view of both agritourism and how agritourism contributes to agricultural income in Rhode Island.