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The Blade – AGRI-TOURISM Makes the News

Recently, AGRI-TOURISM made the news again. Champaign County has placed it as one of the top five initiatives it is pursuing this year. “Agritourism is…the one that’s furthest along,” said Jayne DeLuce, executive director of the local tourism bureau.

Champaign County has seen $306.6 million in tourism spending in 2013. This is up 2.7% from 2012.

What exactly is “agri-tourism?” The definition is, “the act of visiting a working farm or an agricultural, horticultural, or agri-business operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.”

Not only do agriculture and the farms benefit from this tourism, but with the attraction of people to an area – other businesses (ie restaurants, shops, and hotels) also benefit greatly.

Our area is already a leader in the agri-tourism effort. There are approximately 45 local farms that provide milk, meat, and produce to around 100 Chicago restaurants. Folks from the city are interested in learning where their food is raised. Area farmers, including Kilgus Farmstead, Cascade Gardens, Slagel Family Farm, Spence Farm, and others already attract many people from outside the area.

These farms and “Fairbury” are already listed on menus in high-end restaurants throughout Chicagoland. “We need to put continued efforts toward attracting these folks to visit our area,” says JoEllen Gehring, owner of Cascade Gardens.”

“Although local folks may consider what the farms are offering “main-stream,” people from the cities are attracted and interested to the farm – not unlike some of us are to attractions in the City,” Gehring said.

“It is critical that we band together as a community to support these efforts. Teaming up and referring people who come to our community to other area attractions and shops will help everyone in the end.”

One of the main missions for agri-tourism in Illinois is to support existing businesses and develop new ones. The creation of new businesses in our area is critical for ongoing growth.

Agri-tourism is an important piece to the growth puzzle for small farming communities. Everyone’s support is crucial to its success. If anyone has time or resources to contribute to the effort, please contact Bobbi McKeon, at Heart’s Desire (815) 692-4500.