Culinary & Agritourism Success Stories
‘Farm Trail’ on South Coast brings together tourists and farmers
The two basic elements of our economy: supply and demand. Sometimes you have a good product but no demand for it. Sometimes there’s demand, but no product to fulfill it. And sometimes things line up in a special way. This past year, tourism officials on the southern Oregon coast helped facilitate a fortuitous meeting of supply and demand.
A new agritourism program called the Wild Rivers Coast Farm Trail brought unexpected success to a group of local farmers – so much so that more producers are lined up to join the team in 2016.
It started with one of Travel Oregon’s Rural Tourism Studios (RTS), where tourism experts help towns and regions across the state develop innovative and effective ways to promote tourism with a unique local flavor. A South Coast resident attended an RTS meeting in Yachats and came back energized to bring one further down the coast. Stakeholders from Curry County and up north to Bandon arranged a local studio, and the ideas started flying.
“The Rural Tourism Studio gave us high-level ideas,” says Julie Miller, director of the Bandon Chamber of Commerce. “Then we drilled down, and the idea for an Eat Fresh and Local Action Team came up.”
“We have two main things to offer: outdoor recreation, and culinary and agritourism,” says Cathy Boden, Foodshed Program Coordinator for the Curry Watershed Partnership, who leads the Eat Fresh and Local team. “Once we formed the team, we had meetings with local farmers, started brainstorming, and came up with the Farm Trail – it was something we could develop in a short time and be effective.”
The effort started with a series of networking events in different parts of the region, bringing together farmers and other stakeholders. One of the outcomes was the decision to hold an initial “farm-to-table” culinary event to publicize the concept and bring in more participants.
The all-local lunch was held at the former Langlois Cheese Factory, now an event venue. After a tour of four local farms, participants sat down to a meal of food contributed by a variety of local farmers, catered by one of the Farm Trail markets. The lunch was followed by a discussion of how to use Travel Oregon’s resources to increase tourism.
“It was a great way to bring people together,” Miller says. “Not just farmers, but the Port, and economic agencies in the region. It gave us all a chance to meet face to face to talk about resources and ideas, which led to even more people getting involved.”
“Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC) came to offer free small-business support services,” adds Boden. “They helped show how to showcase products in farmers markets and even in local grocery stores.”
From there, Boden started talking with local farmers, working to get them on board. There was some initial skepticism, since nothing like the Farm Trail had been done in the area. But organizers pointed out an example: the Fruit Loop, a heavily promoted and successful consortium of farms in the Hood River Valley that was happy to provide advice on how to make the networking effort succeed.
Eventually six farmers and three farmers markets agreed to participate. The Action Team printed up rack cards with a map of the Farm Trail on one side and information about each location on the other, which they placed in visitor centers, and at the participating farms and farmers markets. They also worked with ODOT to get permission to place promotional signs along Highway 101, a major step given strict signage regulations that normally prevent farmers on side roads along the highway from posting any signs.
“The signs and map worked great,” says Miller. “Motorists would pull in to one farm, and see information about the entire trail.”
One of the highlights, Boden says, was when Dennis Bowman of Bowman Bogs, a local cranberry operation that was part of the Farm Trail, opened up his farm during Bandon’s annual Cranberry Festival in the summer – an event that does not coincide with the fall cranberry harvest. Bowman gave tours of his farm, explaining the production cycle and showing off his collection of historic cranberry-farming equipment.
“People visited his bogs before the harvest during the festival, and then came back during the harvest,” Boden says.
Bowman sells cranberry syrup and concentrate on his farm, and during the festival he had some of his biggest sales levels ever. “I made enough in three days to pay my property payment for a month,” he says. “If I could do that once a month I’d be a very happy man.”
Tourist traffic to the trail’s farms and markets was steady throughout the summer, constituting a strong first-year success. And the response of the visitors quelled any skepticism.
“We stumbled upon a demand,” Boden says. “As we talked through the initial ideas, this is what rose to the top, and it was a good one.”
“This was so desired by visitors and locals that it really took off,” Miller agrees. “We had to reprint the rack cards, and when the local newspaper did a story on the trail, they had about 50 locals come into their office asking about it.”
The Farm Trail’s success didn’t go unnoticed in the local agricultural community; three additional farms have already asked to join the program for 2016. Miller and Boden see the potential to expand the trail into the Coquille Valley, which has a strong agricultural presence just to the northeast of Bandon.
They see the Wild Rivers Coast Farm Trail as a beneficial confluence of supply and demand.
“We’re helping our producers sell their food at a stand at their farm, or at a farmers market,” says Miller. “And we’re adding more value for our visitors, with something local, interesting and delicious.”
By: Jim Moore, WordJones.com