“ When my husband was looking for a retirement project a few years ago,” she said, “the Cooperative Extension people from Burgaw came out, checked our soil, told us what would be the easiest to grow. My husband wanted strawberries, but they told us blueberries and blackberries would better suit our lifestyle and marketing ability.”
Times are changing in Pender as they are all over the South, as markets shift and urban areas encroach on former farmlands. “If the growth keeps up, we may be known as the blueberry farm in downtown Hampstead,” McClung noted wryly. But dwindling acreage isn’t the only problem farmers face. Those whose traditional tobacco crops are no longer their primary agricultural mainstays are in deep trouble.
Aware of the farmers’ struggle to find new income sources, Cooperative Extension and numerous partners, including Golden LEAF (Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation), provides them with science-based information.
The folks listening to McClung, who’ll use what they learned to help farmers become more involved in agricultural tourism and related enterprises, were part of the multi-county, multi-agency “Southeastern AgriCultural Tourism Fall Tour.” Funded by a $325,000 Golden LEAF grant, the tour was organized by the Southeastern District AgriCultural Tourism Task Force and coordinated through the state Department of Cultural Resources and the N.C. Arts Council, partnering with the nonprofit HandMade in America (HIA) and Cooperative Extension.
Agricultural tourism, an aspect of heritage tourism, promotes preserving cultural, natural and historic uniqueness, protecting resources through stewardship and sustainable use and promoting North Carolina as a top tourist destination.
tour included stops at such spots as Desperado Trail Rides; historic
Poplar Grove Plantation; Cottage
Crafts (in the historic
Browntown Schoolhouse) and Nature’s Way Farm, where
“ The demand for programming and technical assistance for new and existing agricultural tourism enterprises has been overwhelming,” said Ed Emory, Extension’s director in Duplin County and a force behind the AgriCultural Tourism Fall Tours.
“ The development of tourism opportunities in North Carolina using our natural resources is an exciting opportunity,“ said Dr. Edwin Jones, Cooperative Extension’s assistant director for community and rural development. “It allows for multiple uses of our natural resource base, increases landowners’ incomes and provides leisure and educational opportunities for people worldwide.”
“ We’re glad to partner with Cooperative Extension and other agencies and nonprofits in trying to help the farmers of this state,” said Martha Glass, manager of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ recently opened Agritourism Office.
Maryanne Friend, the N.C. Arts Council’s marketing and cultural tourism director, added: “Models originally created by the Arts Council’s Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative and HandMade show that local economies can be diversified through agricultural tourism.”
The N.C. Arts Council links the state’s 2,400 arts organizations and oversees “Agri-Cultural Trails” criteria and marketing efforts. HIA, which develops and markets rural sites, has held three statewide Agri-Cultural Tourism training institutes. Carol Kline, HIA’s former tourism director, is developing tour packages to highlight many mountain farms, with a Web site launch for these “HandMade Holidays” set for 2004. Visitors who book a tour get a copy of one of HIA’s two groundbreaking guidebooks: Farms, Gardens, and Countryside Trails of Western North Carolina or The Craft Heritage Trails.
Stacy Tomas, Cooperative Extension’s tourism specialist in the College of Natural Resources, stresses the importance of such efforts.
We want to get the county directors talking with the agritourism entrepreneurs,
to see what they’re doing and thinking,” she said. “They
all see the need to work together to collectively promote agricultural
See Related Story- Other
North Carolina Agricultural Tourism Projects