by Naomi Rosen
You’ve accomplished goal #1 – the tea is in the ground. Now what?
For some US tea growers, the next step will be tapping into a growing trend here in the US, and around the world for that matter: Agri-tourism. Over the years, people have experienced a massive disconnect from relationships and interaction with the actual growers of our foods. That trend seems to be fading quickly as a shift towards Buying/Eating Local and Slow Food movements emerge and gain traction. Within that concept of buying from local farmers is the idea of connecting with, and learning, about the food we are consuming.
The Buy Local movement can be seen on your local Main Street weekly: Farmer’s Markets! Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory has more than quadrupled to a reported 7,864 in August 2012. (Source: USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service) People want to be able to ask questions directly of the grower, there’s a sense of transparency and safety in that.
A similar movement sweeping across our amber waves of grain is the idea of Agri-Tourism. And it’s more than just picking apples at an orchard, although that is one of my family’s favorite fall activities! This kind of tourism opportunity is a vital growth opportunity for the US economy. Speaking in generic tourism terms the 2012 Bureau of Economic Analysis report tells us that “Total Tourism-Related Employment was 7.7 million jobs in the fourth quarter of 2012 and consisted of 5.5 million (71 percent) direct tourism jobs — jobs where workers produce goods and services sold directly to visitors — and 2.2 million (29 percent) indirect tourism-related jobs — jobs where workers produce goods and services used to produce what visitors purchase.” (Source: US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis)
If we breakdown Agri-Tourism, and how it relates to tea, you can see that there are multiple income factors:
- Lodging (B&B’s are very popular!)
- Gift shops and memorabilia (minus the tea…we’re talking Tshirts and mugs here)
- Tea tours
- Specialty events (concerts, meetings, etc.)
And all of that is without having sold a single leaf and two buds.
To give you a great example of how Agri-Tourism is being embraced and used to revitalize entire communities, you only have to look South. And then East. September 9, 2013, Mississippi State sent John Poros, with The Carl Small Town Center, to FiLoLi Tea Farm in Brookhaven, MS. In the prep stages, John will be assisting in farm flow and schematics with some help from the Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape Design schools at MSU. This preparation will allow the farm to “funnel” people from Interstate 55, Highway 84, and the City of Brookhaven. Not to beat a dead horse…but note the assistance from a local university!
Why all this effort for one tea farm? That’s the best part. It’s not just to benefit FiLoLi Tea Farms. They are but one stop in the creation of the “Bread Basket of Mississippi Agritourism Trail.” John Poros’ work is funded via USDA Rural Development grants and private donations. Stops on this route will include farms, a winery, a distillery, a dairy and an assortment of Southern history and cultural hotspots. In all, this trail will include 10 stops over a 180 mile route, averaging one stop every 18 miles. That doesn’t include any additional venues that can be added later. Ideas like this trail will impact multiple communities and small businesses which translates into tourism dollars in the pockets.
This will not be the last you will hear of Agri-Tourism…just a little something to get you all warm and fuzzy to the idea! If your tea farm is already participating in Agri-Tourism, we want to hear about it. If you have participated in Agri-Tourism and come across unique and successful examples, we want to hear about it. If you love the idea and want to implement something like this for your tea farm, we want to hear about how we can help you establish that program. Long story short, we want to hear from you!