Rhode Island Agricultural Tourism Project
This SARE project has led directly to the launching of “Rhode Island FarmWays” – Rhode Island’s first statewide agritourism development and marketing campaign. The campaign has moved ahead rapidly and a variety of educational and marketing elements have been produced and employed to promote RI’s farm and the FarmWays initiative. Rhode Island FarmWays will have a statewide kickoff in early spring of 2006 and will become an officially designated public education, small farm business development and state tourism campaign.
Along with the agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture communities, Rhode Island FarmWays has captured the attention of critical members of the hospitality/tourism, business, government, education and public relations sectors. This has resulted in the identification and employment of new and expanded resources for farmers and other site operators and has created a larger community of like minded and like directed individuals, organizations and citizens increasingly aware of the number and value of Rhode Island’s farms to Rhode Island life.
Key newspapers and periodicals have highlighted Rhode Island’s farms and the RI FarmWays campaign, as well as the regional and national growth of agritourism. The local press and media have requested additional opportunities to create features and interviews about the initiative with the project’s principals and RI farmers for 2006. Copies of recent articles and materials are being sent to the SARE offices under separate cover.
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.
More than fifty four farms and some two hundred sixty participants have attended five educational and professional development workshops in 2005 while some sixty farms have also been assessed for potential business development. In January of 2006, a new series of professional development workshops is being launched with the first, scheduled for January 24th to host 100 attendees. These workshops originally focused on the general principles and current trends in agricultural tourism while they touch now on specialty issues such as tourism development, site development and programming, waste and energy efficiency, public amenities, farm to school educational connections, farm roadside signage, zoning and local ordinances, the RI FarmWays speaker’s bureau and more.
In January, RI’s farms and other agricultural destinations will submit proposals toward the awarding of $10,000 in mini- grants in spring of 2006. These proposals will outline specific AT demonstration projects that operators hope to launch by way of the grants to expand or start their own agritourism initiatives.
We anticipate now that 5-8 grants will be distributed with a minimum of $750 and a maximum of $2000 per award.
Changes in the plan of work
It had been originally proposed that one hundred and twenty (120) farmers/growers, agricultural education/service professionals, tourism business personnel and organizers, planners policy makers and rural development interests from RI and beyond would attend an AT conference, Growing Profitable Farms: Successful Strategies in Agricultural Tourism and Direct Marketing. Instead, this project provided scholarships to eleven farms to attend the National Association of Farmers Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) Conference in February of 2005 – the only nationwide agritourism conference conducted annually. As this conference took place in Boston, it was determined to be an essential part of our project to facilitate our farmer’s to attend. We had offered 25 scholarships but as this was the first year, just 11 farms participated. This year’s national conference is in Austin, Texas and will not be back in the New England area for some time. It is our intention in 2006, then, to begin the development of an annual NE region AT conference in collaboration with other state partners.
Toward that and other ends, RICAPE has been exploring the formation of a North East Regional Agricultural Tourism Network with partners in Vermont, New York and Maryland. Together, we have submitted a proposal for funding to SARE during the 2005 rounds. We are awaiting word on that proposal.
Further, we have used SARE funds originally earmarked for a Rhode Island conference to expand the number of training and professional development programs, augment marketing efforts, and to pay staff. All have proven to be appropriate and supportive steps for our current and future efforts.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
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 ag/hort sites where food, greenery are produced and/or sold directly to the public; produce a web and print directory of farm site destinations; and, complete both a marketing planning and a business resource manual for participating farms.
Through a special arrangement with Senator Lincoln Chafee’s office and in the context of the 2006 federal agricultural Appropriations, RI FarmWays has been identified as one of a select few programs nationwide that will be recommended to receive RBEG and RBOG grants for 2006.
The RDW Group in Providence RI has completed 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 including, a speaker’s bureau, “Farm Quests” – year long learning adventures for 1000 children in grades 4-8, a seasonal menu of special events to promote RI’s farm and agriculture, and expanded web based and print directories and materials.
For the very first time during “Tour RI,” an annual May 1st tour of RI’s destinations for Rhode Islanders, a special “farm tour” bus will visit five RI farm sites.
A range of customized services are being made available to RI farms including site assessments, customized strategic site plans, $250,000 in loans for agritourism development and marketing provided by the RI Economic Development Corporation and First Pioneer Farm Credit; business planning advice is being offered by Every Company Counts, a division of the RIEDC as well as through the state Chambers of Commerce
On the plate for 2006
RICAPE is working on a RI FarmWays Agritourism Association to set standards for Farm site destinations that are marketed outside of Rhode Island. A focus on energy and waste efficiency is being directed at RI’s Farms. With RI economists and business leaders looking for new industries here at home, our recommendation to them has been to make RI farms #1 in the nation in energy and waste efficiency. A comprehensive plan for farm site road signage is being explored with the RI DOT. Legislation that further promotes and supports RI’s agriculture and small farm business development is being proposed through state legislators for the 2006 State Assembly calendar. We are exploring the funding and construction of an Agriculture Education and Outreach Center for farmers, friends and the public. “Farm Stay” enabling legislation – another element of the “right to farm” and “agricultural activity” statutes, will assist those farms who wish to accommodate visitors overnight and/or through on site programs. And we are working to see that there is official designation of agriculture/horticulture/aquaculture as a separate “industry cluster” by the Economic Development Corporation and that more attention to these industries is forthcoming from Rhode Island’s business and economic development sectors.
We are confident that the attention brought to RI’s farms through the RI FarmWays campaign has brought many of these goals within reach
Finally, RICAPE has recently seated a new Board of Directors and Advisors for the coming year with representatives from agriculture, the tourism/hospitality industry, farm credit, chambers of commerce, rural business and economic development sectors, natural resource conservation, education and marketing public relations sectors. With this well positioned and forward thinking Board, we anticipate the steady growth of and support for our organization and its initiatives.
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