Agritourism workshop

Farmers from southwest Georgia visited Gilliard Farms in Brunswick on Thursday evening, following an agritourism workshop hosted at Troy University’s Brunswick site.

With a touch of creativity, farmers across the state have an opportunity to take advantage of the growing agritourism industry.

Georgia’s farmers have found many ways to bring visitors onto their land to see agriculture operations up close, from farmer’s markets to on-site restaurants.

Creating these programs, though, may not be within the standard skillset of every farmer, and some farmers may need a little training first.

Troy University’s Brunswick site hosted an agritourism workshop on Thursday for socially disadvantaged and minority farmers. The workshop came together in partnership a USDA- funded group called Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education along with the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc., a nonprofit based in Albany.

Patrick Holladay, an associate professor for Troy’s School of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management, facilitated the workshop. Nearly 30 farmers traveled from Albany to participate.

Agritourism is a way for farmers to diversify their revenue by bringing visitors to their farm for a variety of kinds of programs, including on-site farmer’s markets, cafés, bed and breakfast homes and more.

Agritourism, Holladay said, is a growing niche in the state’s tourism market, which is the second largest industry in Georgia, bringing in about $63 billion annually. The large industry is agriculture, which brings in about $73.7 billion annually.

“Marrying your two biggest industries together makes a whole lot of sense,” Holladay said.

There’s been a large push recently from the state to market and expand agritourism opportunities. The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s tourism division created a five-pillared strategic plan for 2019-2021 that includes Georgia-grown food and drink among its promotional priorities.

Research also shows that Georgia is the No. 1 state in the country for African American tourists to visit for family reunions, Holladay said. He proposed to the farmers at the workshop Thursday the idea of creating space on their farms to host reunions or other events.

The workshop covered numerous topics that must be considered before offering agritourism programs, such as feasibility studies, business plans, marketing plans, liability and more.

The farmers also visited Gilliard Farms on Thursday evening for an event hosted by the farm’s owners, Matthew Raiford and Jovan Sage. They will travel today to Milledgeville to visit Comfort Farms, which offers agritherapy programs for veterans.

“It’s really farmer to farmer, and it’s also some experiential education that is really immersive, so they can actually see what the farmer is doing,” Holladay said.

The Southwest Georgia Project works at the intersection of food, farm and human rights.

“The farm piece is making sure that family farmers, specifically socially disadvantaged farmers, are viable and able to stick around through the next generation,” said Amber Bell, director of development for the nonprofit. “We provide hands-on technical assistance to farmers.”

The program aims to help farmers find innovative ways to increase revenue.

“Agritourism is growing in the state,” Bell said. “People want to be on farms, and all of these people have lots of farm land. And what we want to do is make sure that they’re not left behind.”

Many small farm owners are struggling, Bell said, in competition with large cooperate farms. Agritourism offers a chance for the farmers to offer unique experiences that visitors cannot find elsewhere.

“It really runs the gamut,” Holladay said. “It’s basically up to the farmer’s own imagination — what do you have on your farm? What would you like to promote? What can visitors get an experience from?”

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