Rhode Island Agricultural Tourism Project
We are entering the last quarter of year one of this two-year project. The project is progressing along two lines – one, the agricultural calendar, and the other, the growing awareness of and interest in the project in the agricultural community and, of significant importance, with other key influentials and decision makers in Rhode Island and the region. The further development of agritourism and direct marketing both in state and elsewhere depends on a compatible and timely passage through and engagement with both.
Several key components are already in progress and some fortuitous synchronicity is facilitating (and customizing) our schedule and delivery. A new dairy cooperative (Rhody Fresh) has begun producing Rhode Island’s own brand of milk for market. And there is growing interest in things agricultural in RI that is creating the right environment for this initiative to gain traction.
Marketing: We have engaged more than one hundred potential beneficiaries, established liaison between them and a variety of service providers, are preparing to launch the first round of training programs in early 2005, and will be award both scholarships and mini-grants to support beneficiary learning and development activities.
The project is being promoted through a marketing frame that we call “RI FarmWays.” This provides an identity for our purposes and a compelling context for communication outreach. The RI Farm Ways project is now a signature program of RICAPE. In further support of AT and direct marketing development, other farm-based educational and recreational activities e.g. a speaker’s bureau of farmers and other beneficiaries for classroom and community presentations and “Farm Quest” educational programs for children and the general public will be included in the RI FarmWays program package.
Beneficiaries: In creating our database for RI Farm Ways, we have established a base line of farm, agricultural, horticultural, land trust and historical sites and personnel that qualify under our project beneficiary guidelines.
Key Players: We regularly articulate the strong need for RI state government and other key decision makers to become more involved in AT and direct market development. To facilitate that, we have sought to identify and encourage the most appropriate public/private partnerships. Thus, included in our outreach, we have engaged the office of the Governor, state and in-state federal agencies, RI’s seven tourism councils and its chambers of commerce, URI (SARE AT project partner) and other college and university personnel, trade associations, state and regional lending institutions, farm service providers, the office of RI’s congressional delegates, 4H, marketing and public relations professionals and the print and broadcast media
Communication and outreach: We have been communicating regularly with beneficiaries and other influentials via direct mail and the web to provide project announcements and updates and to arrange for meetings and site assessments. The office of the Chief of Agriculture (SARE AT project partner) at the Department of Environmental Management has also been proactive in creating and broadcasting information about the initiative to encourage participation from beneficiaries and others throughout RI. URI, the offices of the Rural Development Council, NRCS, RC&D, NOFA and others have been helpful in keeping their colleagues and contacts well-informed.
Media: The press and media have been increasingly attentive to the project and are doing an admirable job of raising awareness and making noble attempts at getting the story straight. Through this project, RICAPE has been able to establish a broader presence statewide. It is seen now as playing an important role in positioning RI’s agriculture in a context in which the general public can better understand the “value” of sustaining it: economically, aesthetically, historically; to increase the amount of local foods, to enhance quality of life and pride of place, to enhance education, local culture, and to provide elements of adventure and fun for the whole family.
Research: Central to our ongoing research has been a close connection with the Vermont Farms Association, an excellent representative model of how to put together and run an agritourism development program. On several occasions we have interacted with the association through meetings, farm tours and other activities that link our efforts and address our common goals.
This SARE grant has drawn significant interest throughout New England and broadened our family of friends and colleagues in agriculture and related fields of influence. We are leading discussions about creating a regional AT summit, and the position of a regional representative for agritourism who would provide liaison with the tourism industry nationwide. There are also plans afoot to share training and networking opportunities and to develop collaborative programs that enhance beneficiary services. It should be noted that in addition to RI, agritourism is still significantly underdeveloped in NH, MA, CT and elsewhere in NE. The level of communication between key payers in the mix – agricultural, tourism based, economic and rural development, and others is still very limited in scope and needs to be expanded.
We estimate 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.
Through their participation farmers, growers and they will be better prepared to adopt new agricultural tourism activities and/or improve existing student and visitor experiences and direct marketing methods.
Our project will positively influence the Rhode Island agricultural community by: raising the overall awareness among farmers and related agricultural and rural interests about the income generating opportunities associated with profitable AT and direct marketing efforts; provide farms and rural businesses with specific information/training programs, consultations, demonstration projects and reference materials which will increase their knowledge, skills and confidence level to engage in AT enterprises; facilitating agriculture-tourism/hospitality business connections and communication channels which enhance and expand the marketing of farm tour destinations and other visitor experiences; providing farmers with lesson plans and templates for creating on-farm learning stations for visiting schools, youth groups, families and tour groups; providing 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; fostering community leadership among farmers, farm service and community development groups, planners and policy makers to positively influence regulations affecting farm operations, and by enlisting 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.
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
- Due to the agricultural calendar, the evolution of project awareness in the field, and the growth of necessary partnerships, there have been changes made in our work plan. Compiling site assessments while also conducting meetings and outreach with our beneficiaries and key decision makers in state have allowed us to better assess needs and resources and reset our course and timetable.
The AT project team, a broad-based collection of beneficiaries and other specialists in a variety of fields, is currently functioning informally as an advisory group. People’s schedules make it difficult to gather a large group for regular meetings, so we conduct them at their locations, over the phone or via the web. Nevertheless, it has not limited our outreach or the wealth of input and engagement that we have received. Our 2005 schedule includes multiple opportunities for group interactions including our training programs which will be held at tourism council and chamber of commerce sites, and a seasonal kickoff event in March where the beneficiaries will assemble and participate in joint activities with other influentials, colleagues and service providers. We feel this approach is the most efficient use of everyone’s time and energies.
The presence of the North American Farmer’s Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) national conference and convention in Boston in February, 2005, provides an excellent training and networking platform for our beneficiaries. We have promoted it as an appropriate adjunct to our scheduled training programs. To offset convention fees, we are providing 25 farms who attend the conference $100 scholarships.
Where appropriate, our own training workshops scheduled from late January through March will duplicate some of those held at the NAFDMA conference, customized to fit the RI experience. Special interest workshops are also being designed to meet the needs and interests identified in the site assessments currently being conducted at our beneficiary farms.
The summit originally planned for spring 2005, will instead be broken down into a series of networking and training events held throughout the year and into year two of the project. In March of 2005, a formal kickoff event will be held (“kickoff” to the SARE funded RI FarmWays AT development program, kickoff to the next growing and AT seasons, kickoff to the partner building and business contact development, etc.) We expect that this event will become an annual seasonal kickoff and RI farm recognition event.
One hundred and sixteen farms and other sites have been engaged to participate in the RI FarmWays program. Thirty-four farm sites have responded to the original announcement and have requested site assessments, with another ten to twenty-five weighing their interests. Twenty-seven site assessments have been completed. We have also received requests from farm sites in MA to participate in the RI FarmWays program.
We estimate that forty to sixty beneficiaries will attend the NAFDMA conference in Boston. Twenty five farms will receive $100 scholarships to offset NAFDMA conference fees. Forty to seventy-five farms and twenty-five to forty others will attend the kickoff event in March and forty to seventy-five farm sites will participate in the RI FarmWays training programs.
Training programs are being designed to cover a number of research, education and professional development topics:
What is Agricultural Tourism?
Agricultural Tourism and Sustainability
An overview of project goals, program design and the role of extension/agricultural educators
Agricultural Tourism Principles, Practices and Success Stories
Travel and Tourism 101: Agricultural Tourism as part of the larger travel, tourism and hospitality industry
Assessing Farm Sites and Community Assets for Agritourism Potential
Planning and Developing Tour Experiences (visitor activities for special and general audiences)
Preparing the Farm Site to Receive Visitors (visitor safety, aesthetics and scenic qualities, traffic patterns, facilities, signage)
Direct Marketing of Farm and Value-added Products
Business Plans and Practices (pricing and profit margins, re cords, etc.)
Risk Assessment and legal/liability issues
Food Safety and the Farm Kitchen
Customer and community relations
Marketing, advertising and public relations
Reaching and Teaching the Farm Community: planning your agritourism outreach education program
Creating links with Educators to encourage student programs
Spring 2005: RICAPE will invite competitive proposals from workshop participants and other farm and resource management businesses to develop AT demonstration/applied research projects on site which focus on or incorporate farms. We will award a minimum of eight to ten grants of a maximum of $1000 each. Five farms are being selected for special consideration and development of AT and direct marketing activities. Grant recipients will begin conducting AT demonstration projects/training programs during the 2005 season.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Announcements about RI FarmWays were sent to approximately one hundred sixteen farmers and another seventy-five to one hundred other beneficiaries in food, agriculture, tourism, rural and economic development and other fields and specialties.
A farm site assessment tool was created and twenty seven assessments have been completed to date. A database of farm sites and agritourism and direct marketing activities, interests, needs and goals has been created. The RICAPE website is being customized to provide information and a farm site directory for beneficiaries and the public.
Since the project’s inception in late spring 2004, press releases have been sent to print and broadcast media outlets. The project has appeared in feature articles in the Providence Journal and elsewhere in RI and over the Associated Press. The senior investigator appeared on local television for a 30-minute interview about the project on December 30th. A commentary written by the SI “To Save the Farm, Visit the Farm” appeared in the Providence Journal in September of 2004.
The SI has made presentations about the project at NRCS Conservation Meetings and at a recent Rural Development Council breakfast meeting. Other presentation opportunities have been offered and are being scheduled.
We have added three volunteer staff to our AT project team who work directly with the senior investigator and Project Coordinator, Mary Beth Miller. One is a graduate student from Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute majoring in hospitality who is also working part time with three of the tourism council offices. She intends to bring AT ideas gleaned from this project back to Argentina.
Another is a graduate student in environmental education at Antioch College in NH. She is developing “Farm Quests” – educational programs for children and adults that will assist beneficiaries to conduct more compelling and intellectually rigorous farm tours in the future. A third, a Brown University graduate, is working on a print and on line version of a RI FarmWays farm directory for the public and a training manual for our beneficiaries.
We are discussing with NEASS an economic impact assessment of AT in RI beginning August 2005 to be conducted over a two year period.
Discussions are being held with URI to engage 4H in a series of related projects and events in support of RI FarmWays and how to bring the University’s Peckham Farm into play as a potential AT training site
Loan Fund: We have presented to, and are in discussion with the RI Economic Development Corporation and its Board, as well as with First Pioneer Farm Credit, USDA Rural Development, NRCS, FSA and commercial lending institutions to create a loan fund for our beneficiaries. This fund will enable them to upgrade site amenities and add to farm assets to better accommodate the development of alternative enterprises and visitor activities.
Funding: We are seeking additional project funding from RI Economic Development Corporation, USDA Rural Development (Rural Business Enterprise Grants) and from our congressional delegation. We are also seeking permanent funding from the RI Assembly through a series of annual legislative grants.
Hard copies of relevant project related documentation are being sent under separate cover.
Chief, Division of Agriculture
Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street
Providence, RI 02908
Office Phone: 4012222781
PO Box 40940
Providence, RI 02940
Office Phone: 4012136420
Senior Extension Educator
University of Rhode Island, CES
3 East Alumni Avenue
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018744280