Mar 222009
 
Authors: Erin Smith

In response to sharp declines in 2008 state agricultural revenues, local land owners and graduate students in the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management program gathered before spring break to see how farms and ranches can profit from opening their doors to visitors.

During an educational seminar on agritourism in Colorado’s Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center in Fort Collins, forward-thinkers discussed the scope of tourism based on agricultural resources and its potential in Colorado.

“It’s to help (students) understand the modern complexity of agriculture and what it’s going to take in the future to stay profitable,” said Kraig Peel, doctor and co-director of the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management graduate program, adding that agritourism is just another piece of that complexity.

The WCIRM, which sponsored the event, incorporates concepts from multiple disciplines to teach a broad view of agriculture, Peel said.

Gary May, the owner of May Farms in Byer, said he opened a 10,000-square-foot event center on his land three years ago in order to maintain his family’s hold on it as Denver began to crawl eastward. May spoke at the conference about his business, several marketing strategies and the entertainment options that many farms and ranches can offer to visitors. Listing activities like archery, fly-fishing or hunting, May coined the activities “agri-tainment.”

He added that his event center often hosts weddings, corporate retreats or Quinceañeras, a coming-of-age ceremony in Latin culture.

“It’s all over the chart, and it’s all ag-tourism,” May said.

“If you embrace what is unique in a community . people want to visit that,” said Dawn Thilmany McFadden, a professor of agriculture and resource economics who spoke at the seminar.

McFadden said agritourism is often narrowly defined as wildlife-based activities but is also based on local history and food.

According to a report by the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, in 2006 over 13 million visitors in Colorado experienced some form of agritourism, spending over $1 billion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that from 2002 to 2007 nearly 200 farms closed in Colorado but agritourism profits rose from $12 million to $33 million.

“The number of farms went down, and their income increased threefold,” McFadden said. “It’s pretty remarkable.”

Stacia Berry, an agriculture science graduate student, said that the most important contribution agritourism could offer to society and the industry is education.

Berry said besides extra profit for farms, agritourism can educate the public and “keep a consumer mind set that understands where their food comes from.”

Through visits to gardens and farms, “Hopefully we can raise a generation of kids who at least have an appreciation, on some level, of agriculture,” Berry said.

Staff reporter Erin Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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