|By TIM THORNBERRY
CAMPTON, Ky. — For those who have visited northeastern Kentucky, the area’s beauty and diversity is well known. That beauty is what a group of agricultural and business leaders want to capitalize on to help area farmers and landowners.
The Kentucky Agricultural Develop-ment Board (KADB) recently approved $50,000 in Phase I Tobacco funds for Gateway Resource Conservation Development as part of the 2006 Agritourism Competitive Awards Program to help those leaders make their dreams a reality.
The awards program was created to assist producers as they move into the state’s increasing agritourism industry. The KADB set aside $1 million ($500,000 for two rounds of awards) for development of Kentucky’s agritourism businesses and for its promotion by regional agritourism organizations.
The money will go specifically to the East Kentucky Foothills Eco-Agritourism Corp. to develop a tourism trail that will stretch through seven countries from the Red River Gorge to the Ohio River. The counties included in the proposed trail venture are Wolfe, Menifee, Morgan, Elliot, Carter, Greenup and Lewis.
Larry Brown, a teacher who works with the Wolfe County Economic Development Office, is helping to organize the new corporation and said the whole initiative has been a collaborative effort between many county leaders and help from the state.
“A group of people have come together to cross county lines and political lines to work together with one goal in mind and not allow little problems to distract them,” he said. “Phase I has been the backbone of this project because it has given us the money to get started. This will help an economy that has been tobacco dependent.”
The project is designed to help families who have lost farm income due to the tobacco buyout, develop alternative methods to generate income using the natural resources of their farms and land.
Brown emphasizes the word “ecology” when referring to the plans for the area.
“We want to keep the natural resources and sell the pleasure of our ecology here, but we want it left here,” he said. “We want to leave this area a rural area; a little on the wild side.”
One aspect of the program would include a website where perspective visitors could view possible destinations such as working farms tours, bed-and-breakfast inns, horse stables or any other venture that could be developed.
The corporation would not only help the landowners to create these types of businesses, but would also assist the customers with reservations, directions and the collection of fees.
Bill McCloskey, a regional project analyst with the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP), said agritourism funds are to help develop a growing industry with a common message.
“Agritourism is an emerging industry with a lot of potential,” he said. “The Ag Development Board provided $400,000 to the Department of Agriculture specifically for agritourism and part of that was used for a study and to conduct surveys to get recommendations.
“We found through those studies that tourist don’t identify with agritourism so we’re trying to coordinate with local groups to develop a common theme that farms are fun. I think those farmers that can handle all aspects of a business will succeed.”
Gwenda Adkins is the county extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Elliott County and also a certified tourism educator through the University of Kentucky. Adkins sees this project, and agritourism in general, as a way to benefit all farmers, young and not so young.
“With the tobacco buyout, area farmers have diversified, some raising row crops others getting into cattle, but those things aren’t for everybody,” she said.
“This project will grow a piece of the agricultural economy we haven’t tapped into yet and will be for all farmers regardless of age. I think this project will be a success but it won’t happen overnight. I also think it will make this region of Eastern Kentucky a tourist destination and the counties involved will work together rather than compete against each other.”
Brown said, “We would like someday for people to think of Eastern Kentucky as a vacation in paradise. You have to look and dream ahead about certain goals and then go after them.”
For more information contact GOAP at 502-564-4627 or visit their website at http://agpolicy.ky.gov
This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.