Alice Loy

 

Agriculture has always been a precursor to culture; the soils, topography and precipitation of a region have long anchored the seasonal traditions and flavors of a region’s people. Historically, we were grounded, culturally, socially, communally, in the soils of our places. Today, having mostly commoditized our food, we now find ourselves unmoored: we are free to buy oranges in August and tomatoes in January. We can purchase kiwis from New Zealand and beef from China. Grocery store shelves across the country are alike; sameness has come to dominate our agriculture. And increasingly, we yearn for that which is unique—the places, people and stories that surprise and delight us.

Being that food is one of the most accessible traditions of any region, travelers are drawn to regional cuisine as a doorway into the cultural traditions of a place. Visitors to New Mexico seek out and delight in our green chile, crisp apples and blue corn. And as tourists discover the stories behind the flavors on a plate, farmers in our state are answering the call to host people on their lands. Farm dinners and cooking classes are just the top of the agritourism iceberg. Agritourism is growing by leaps and bounds.

According to national agritourism expert Jane Eckert, Agritourism is the crossroads of tourism and agriculture: when the public visits working farms, ranches or wineries to buy products, enjoy entertainment, participate in activities, shop in a country store, eat a meal or make overnight stays.”

The most recent USDA Census (2007) reports 23,350 farms offering agritourism and outdoor activities, totaling $566 million in annual revenues for farms. This number is expected to grow as the heritage- and culture tourism market expands.

On average, heritage- and cultural travelers spend 30 percent more and travel five days instead of three. This means that people who are likely to enjoy agritourism activities are also more likely to spend more. Combining these data with the increase in travel by car suggests that agritourism will continue to prove a viable strategy for rural and urban communities determined to maintain their agricultural heritage.

States vary in their agritourism activities, policies and levels of support. However, states are becoming more organized and more competitive in this emerging market. In several states, departments of agriculture and tourism are collaborating to provide funding and policy support to agritourism operators. Colorado passed C.R.S. 38-13-116.7 in 2011, allocating $300,000 annually to support agritourism; Oklahoma has enacted legislation approving an Agritourism Revolving Fund. States are passing legislation that define agritourism operations, set appropriate liability limits for operators and improve road signage. Overall, 26 states have passed agritourism legislation that will strengthen their competitiveness in the marketplace. New Mexico is not one of these states, yet.

The Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship (GCCE), the MRCOG AgCollaborative, Bernalillo County, USDA and RDC/REDI have partnered to build a core group of agritourism sites that will attract people to north and central NM. Our partnership aims to 1) build economic opportunities that align with our cultural values, 2) support local food production, and 3) increase revenue opportunities for farmers.

The project first worked to reach out to farmers, producers and organizations engaged in or interested in agritourism. Over the past year we have spent over 3,000 hours on farms, at farmers’ markets, and talking with organizations supporting farmers. GCCE has visited over 50 farm and/or market sites along the Río Grande Valley, from Taos to Las Cruces. To gain an in-depth understanding of the needs of growers and market venues we conducted outreach, surveys and research into current national agritourism trends and data.

 

We hosted a FAM (familiarization) Tour to engage local tourism and policy leaders in a realistic agritourism tour. The daylong trip was hosted by Santa Fe Walkabouts (www.santafewalkabouts.com), a top-rated walking-tour company that creates adventures for visitors seeking authentic experiences in northern NM. Four sites were visited: Purple Adobe Lavender Farm (www.purpleadobelavenderfarm.com), The Feasting Place (www.thefeastingplace.com), Centinela Traditional Arts (www.chimayoweavers.com), and Estrella del Norte Vineyard (www.estrelladelnortevineyard.com). The tour provided a sampling of what tourists can experience in NM and generated ideas about partnerships and market opportunities.

The questionnaire we sent out to farmers, producers and others provided a sense of both the current activities available on farms and the opportunities for new agritourism enterprises. 160 people responded. They fell into self-selecting categories:

63 respondents = “I am a farmer/rancher and/or I produce goods with agricultural products.”

19 = “I work for a market venue, farmers’ market, restaurant, winery, CSA, Co-op, other.”

78 = “I work with an agency or organization that supports farmers and food businesses, or I’m an individual supporter.”

 

Of these Farmer/Rancher/Producer groups, 33 currently offer agritourism activities, while 22 more would like to offer agritourism on their farm or ranch.

 

The wide array of experiences for tourists ranges from outdoor activities to community engagement to traditional culture. Here is a sampling:

  • Explore progressive orchard practices
  • See radical sustainability and subsistence horticulture
  • Tour a cattle ranch
  • Visit American buffalo and Himalayan yak herds
  • Volunteer at “farm-for-food bank”
  • Purchase heritage poultry, feather crafts
  • View 500 varieties of iris
  • Discover 85 historic fig tree types
  • Walk in sunflower fields
  • Eat fresh chile at festivals
  • Join planting parties in the spring
  • Taste a wide variety of unique fruit
  • Milk a goat
  • Grind blue corn
  • Canning and jam-making
  • Community acequia activities
  • Rent a casita on a farm
  • Eat authentic traditional Pueblo food
  • Feel community cheer at Farmers’ Markets

 

Currently, the majority of agritourism visitors in the region come from locales within our own state. This likely reflects the fact that the majority of farmers/growers/producers market themselves through local farmers’ markets. This means there is lots of room for us to grow into agritourism opportunities! Advertising and marketing campaigns that target visitors from outside the region will likely increase the number of tourists visiting our sites from neighboring states and beyond the Southwest. Advertising in Southwest-region food and wine publications, development of Google and Facebook ads and implementation of a geo-mapping-based application or website is essential to reach beyond our current market to tourists passionate about food and farms, authentic experiences and regional cultures.

Over the last three months, GCCE has provided training and technical assistance to 25 farmers and producers, built a Core Mentors Group with outstanding agritourism entrepreneurs providing support and advice to emerging agritourism entrepreneurs; and created online marketing activities to promote agritourism destinations in our region.

 

 

Recommendations to Support Agritourism:

  1. New Mexico should create an online marketing initiative to reach tourists through targeted advertising in food and culture publications;
  2. New Mexico’s state departments of Tourism and Agriculture should increase their investments into outreach, training and mentoring for agritourism entrepreneurs;
  3. Regional leaders should form an Agritourism Leadership Group to provide guidance and vision to the state decision-makers and entrepreneurs;
  4. Research should be conducted to explore the best strategies and return-on-investment for agritourism ventures in NM;
  5. Local policy leaders should become more informed about importance of agritourism so they can support these businesses in their region or district;
  6. Our region’s marketing approach should be aligned and regional differences be highlighted through targeted advertising to market segments;
  7. Farmers and producers should collaborate to shape strategic compilations of products in given region–instead of competing with one another.

 

For more information, contact Selena Marroquin at selena@culturalentrepreneur.org

Alice Loy is the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship’s director of programs.

The GCCE is a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe that is dedicated to supporting cultural entrepreneurs. For more information, visit www.culturalentrepreneur.org

Organizations Supporting Agritourism in our Region

  • Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Albuquerque Downtown Growers Market
  • Bountiful Conservation
  • Central Colorado Foodshed Association
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Delicious New Mexico
  • Edible Santa Fe
  • El Chante
  • Farm to Table
  • Grower’s Market South Valley Economic Development Center
  • Hubbell House
  • Il Piatto restaurant
  • La Boca/Taberna restaurant
  • La Montañita Coop
  • Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • LGBTQ Resource Center
  • Los Alamos Farmers’ markets
  • Los Poblanos Noticias
  • Master Gardeners
  • Mixing Bowl New Mexico
  • Mid Region Council of Governments (MRCOG)
  • Native Plant Society
  • New Mexico Farmers Market Association Pueblo of Pojoaque
  • New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce
  • New Mexico State University Ag Extension
  • Open Space Visitors Center
  • Raza Graduate Student Association
  • Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
  • Shabeta’s Healing Garden and Healing Center
  • Sierra County Farmers’ Market
  • SLV Local Foods Coalition
  • Taos Farmers’ Market
  • The Bountiful Alliance
  • The Mixing Bowl
  • University of New Mexico Sustainability Program Village of Los Ranchos