Agri-tourism: 'Helps the farmer stay on the farm, and keep the farm in the family'
About 20 people attended, picking up practical advice from panelists about adding a visitor or tourism component to an agricultural operation.
“I think it was very good meeting,” La Grande farmer Jon Bruck said during a break. “Something like this gets people thinking about the options.”During a pair of summit meetings in 2007, participants selected agri-tourism and bike touring as two attractions to develop in the county. Committees were appointed to build momentum.
The agri-tourism committee hosted an informational meeting in November of last year. The more recent summit was a follow-up, designed to further spread the word.
“Agri-tourism helps the farmer stay on the farm, and keep the farm in the family,” said Karyn Bischoff, one of several panelists on hand for the event.
Bischoff and her family own a farm near Summerville and run a plant nursery called Stargazer Perennials on the property. She also operates a farmstand.
By all accounts, it is a successful venture. Bischoff said she works to make the operation as attractive and visitor-friendly as possible. She said she gets repeat customers dropping in from faraway places; also she does extensive marketing on the Internet.
For herself, she is grateful to have the chance to do work she loves.
“The important thing is to do what you care about. Agri-tourism is anything that interests you that has to do with agriculture,” she said.
Mammen said owners Phil and Nancy Wilson decided to take in guests to help offset the costs of running a ranch. He said the guests are made to feel at home and have the chance to see close-up what life on a working ranch is like.
“Ranching was tough for the Wilsons, and they decided agri-tourism was where the money is. People come from all over and they bring their kids and grandkids,” Mammen said.
Panelist Mauricio Valerio of Rural Development Initiatives talked about developing attractions that spotlight Northeast Oregon’s abundant wildlife.
Many landowners have the capability of offering visitors hunting and fishing opportunities, he said. He added that for a lot of people visiting the region, just the chance of glimpsing wildlife affords a thrill.
“We are so rich in these resources, we sometimes forget how appealing they are to people from around the world,” he said.
Alice Trindle, director of the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association, was another speaker. She said it is important for people to work together as they develop regional agri-tourism.
“Marketing is important, networking is important, working with your media is important,” she said.
Lisa Dawson, executive director for the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, spoke on the need for good business plans.
She said people thinking about developing an agri-tourism attraction should determine feasibility, then set goals.
“Business planning is thinking through that process and and making sure it makes sense,” she said. “It is an ongoing process. You’re never really done.”
Dawson also spoke about financing. While it is difficult to get start-up financing, she said NEOEDD operates programs that can help.
Ron Jensen, owner of Stange Manor Bed and Breakfast in
La Grande, was yet another speaker on the panel. He said he thinks agri-tourism attractions will help boost profits for the local lodging industry.
“What’s key to all this trying to make Union County a destination,” he said. “This is kind of a hook to keep people in the area a little longer.”
Bruck said he has a couple of ideas he may try to develop, including selling berries he grows on his farm.
He said that overall, he likes the idea of developing agri-tourism in the county. He said he would like to see connections built to the region’s history.
“If people go home feeling like they’ve learned something, they’re going to tell their friends,” he said.
Marlis Rufener, a Cove resident who owns a cherry farm in The Dalles, said she thought the meeting was worthwhile.
“I picked up some good information, especially about farmstands,” she said.
Union County Tourism is interested in hearing from people who want to start an agri-tourism enterprise, and from those who already have begun one.
Call Executive Director Janet Dodson, 963-8588.