Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Agri Leader

Agri-tourism may be next best thing to the beach

BY ANN M. O’PHELAN
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Central Florida's Agri-LeaderAccording to VISIT FLORIDA’s research department, in 2012 alone, 89.3 million visitors came to Florida — that staggering number is up by 2.3 percent from 2011. Equally impressive is the amount of money spent by those tourists each year. In 2012, total tourism spending was more than $70 billion.

Visitors come to the Sunshine State every year for many reasons. They come to enjoy the sunshine, the shopping, the nightlife, the beaches and the laid-back lifestyle. In the past few years, especially, it’s becoming more and more common for Florida visitors to include an agricultural event or venue in their itinerary.

Everything from u-picking fresh berries at Hydro Harvest Farms and Market in Ruskin, to enjoying farm tours at Dakin Dairy Farms In Myakka City, to participating in vineyard tours at Bunker Hill Winery and Vineyard in Bunker Hill, are becoming popular choices for tourists. Florida’s agricultural industry is the second largest industry outside of tourism, so it makes sense that these two mega industries can offer something that’s combined.

Agri-tourism involves any agriculturally-based event, activity or operation, such as picking fresh fruit or vegetables, visiting a farm stand, feeding farm animals, enjoying a farm tour, horseback riding on a nature trail, or strolling through a corn maze, many of which can be especially fun for whole families.

“Many of the agri-tourism choices are family-friendly, and appeal to a variety of ages and backgrounds,” said Melissa Hunt, management analyst, FDACS. “Visitors take pleasure in these activities because they get to enjoy the great outdoors, along with some fresh air and exercise,” added Hunt, who explained that agri-tourism can also be an educational opportunity for visitors to learn everything from how to grow their own food, to how to raise farms animals.

It can also be a chance to participate in agricultural heritage activities. For example, a visit to the Florida Agricultural Museum in Palm Coast offers visitors a chance to go back in time and experience early Florida, while Rob’s Redland Riot, in Homestead, offers a self-guided tour of different historical venues in the Redland area of Homestead.

Incorporating a fun agricultural experience into one’s vacation can be a learning experience, as well as a great memory builder. Simple things like selecting citrus off trees at Ridge Island Groves in Haines City, to picking blueberries off the bushes at Futch Family Farms in Polk City, to horseback riding along trails at Westgate River Ranch Resort in River Ranch, are often worlds away from the city settings that many tourists come from.

The benefits of these experiences are great for both the vendors and the visitors alike. “Those offering the agri-tourism experience can benefit economically at the present time and in the future — thanks to word of mouth advertising,” said Kelly Rote, communications specialist, Visit Central Florida, who explained that people love to tell their friends and relatives all about their vacation experiences when they return home, and so the income potential for farmers, ranchers and growers keeps growing as the word is spread.

What’s gaining in popularity are trips to wineries, such as the True Blue Winery in Davenport, and participating in outdoor excursions, such as Safari Wilderness Ranch in Lakeland.

Enjoying farmer’s markets, roadside stands and u-picks are always popular choices.

“People like to purchase fresh, locally grown produce for their families,” said Rote, who explained that with these types of experiences, visitors gain an increased sense of community in supporting local businesses and they also feel they are getting a healthier product at the same time.

While the agri-tourism offerings in Florida are too numerous to name, there are a few sites that list options. You can also check with your local chamber of commerce, as well as at: www.visitflorida.com and www.visitcentralflorida.org. Be sure to pass your findings onto your friends and family who all love to come and visit you time and time and time again in the Sunshine State.

Agritourism links:

A world-wide directory of farms, ranches, farmhouses, wineries, and other country businesses: www.agritourismworld.com,

Florida Wine Tours: www.florida-agriculture.com/consumers/crops/winetours

Certified Florida Farm Wineries and Vineyards: www.florida-agriculture.com/brochures/P-01336.pdf.

U-Pick: www.florida-agriculture.com/consumers/crops/upick, http://www.pickyourown.org/FL.htm

Horse Trails: www.florida-agriculture.com/consumers/recreation/horsetrails

Farmer’s Markets: http://www.farmersmarketonline.com/fm/Florida.htm, http://florida-agriculture.com/consumers/crops/commfarmmkt/

Seasonal Offerings: www.florida-agriculture.com/consumers/crops/xmastreefarm.

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