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Planting the Seeds for Southtowns Agritourism

by Brian Krygier
Fri, May 11th 2012 02:00 pm
Southtowns Farm Trail
Southtowns Farm Trail

Planting the Seeds for Southtowns Agritourism

The southern tip of Erie County boasts a diverse and vibrant agricultural economy, with a proud history of family farming traditions.  Now the Towns of Eden, Brant, Evans, North Collins and the Villages of Angola, Farnham and North Collins have banded together to form the Southtowns Community Enhancement Coalition.  Formed in 2004 the group has been focusing on capitalizing on the area's biggest industry, agriculture.

One of the group's early efforts resulted in a strong partnership with the UB Regional Institute, whose research efforts began in 2005 to provide an assessment of the areas agricultural assets and opportunities.  By 2009 the effort had identified significant opportunities in agricultural heritage, recreation and tourism.  A survey of local farms indicated that a significant number of them were already engaging in some form of agri-tourism.  Whether it was a road side farm stand, or you pick operations, many farms saw the benefits of bringing customers out to the farm.
 In 2010 the ECIDA and the County of Erie helped provide funding for the production of an agritourism brochure with visitor information and a map showing the locations of various farms and attractions in the area.  The brochure was well received providing information on produce stands, greenhouse operations, horse stables and livestock farms in the region.  As it turned out this was the first step in planting the seeds for developing a robust marketing and branding campaign for the Southtowns.
Supported by funding from the ECIDA and the Southtowns Community Coalition, the UB Regional Institute developed a brand concept utilizing a unique visual logo and theme that will identify a farm trail to attract and provide wayfinding for visitors.  The Southtowns Farm Trail signage and logo will identify farms as participating in the trail and being visitor ready.  
The effort will also include a website, social media and internet mapping technologies to show a seasonal produce calendar, display harvest times, updates on fruit and vegetable picking times and listings of farm, produce market and roadside produce stands hours of operation and locations.  The goal of the program is to create a literal Farm Trail linking the dozens of farms, produce stands, greenhouses and u-pick operations together to promote the region as the place to get out to the farm and see where and how your food is grown.
Regional and national "Locally Grown" and "Buy Local" food promotion efforts point to the benefits of a strong local agricultural industry.  Buying local not only helps keep our local farms operating, but has "green" economic and community benefits.  Why pay for the economic and environmental costs of shipping produce around the globe, when we can go out to our local farms and pick it ourselves.    Besides, who hasn't reveled in the fun of popping a strawberry in your mouth right as you picked it from the plant?
Presently the Coalition is surveying local farms to gauge their interest in participating in the "Farm Trail" project.  The Coalition hopes to have a preliminary effort underway with this year's growing season.  See you out on the Farm Trail, this summer.

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