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Tennessee sets second agritourism conference
By ANN HINCH
Tennessee Correspondent

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Most notable for being the childhood home of Dolly Parton and a major tourist draw, it is fitting Pigeon Forge will host the state’s second Agritourism: Cultivating Farm Revenue two-day conference in January 2007.

The first conference in November 2005, held in Franklin, drew just under 300 people from an 11-state area. In response to a survey taken of those attendees, the second conference is being tweaked to add more networking opportunities and different options for educational sessions, including more on self-marketing. For example, lunch each day will feature “topic tables” at which like-minded attendees can sit and chat over their meal.

“Marketing is a big deal for these entrepreneurs,” said Megan Bruch, marketing specialist with University of Tennessee’s Center for Profitable Agriculture. She added 15 speakers will cover group presentations and panels, and there will be more breakout sessions than at the first conference. “We have fewer sessions, overall, but hopefully people can get to the ones they want to.”

Dr. Maria Marshall of Purdue University is leading two of those sessions – one on pricing and another on growing one’s business. An extension specialist for rural business development through the Dept. of Agricultural Economics, she has consulted many small businesses and has talked on pricing before.

“That’s one of the scariest things, is to put a price to your product,” she explained, pointing out most entrepreneurs need help deciding how to do this. “When you look at pricing, you have to look at the product and the service you get with that product.”

Another bailiwick facing the business owner is if and when to expand their business. She will talk about setting growth goals, figuring how much to spend on marketing and when to hire employees and the cost of doing so.

Other conference topics will cover risk management, safety and health, hospitality, customer characteristics and preferences and evaluating one’s present resources to start or expand a business. Speakers will include both academics and business owners with practical experience to impart.

In addition to trade show booths at the two-day conference, the organizers are setting up a special exhibit called “Show Your Stuff.” Attendees who already own businesses can drop off photos of their operations for others to see, and business cards to be given out to onlookers.

This conference is a prime opportunity for the new Tennessee Agritourism Assoc. (TAA), which just elected its first officers in August, to advertise and pick up new memberships. President and charter member Vera Ann Myers of Greene County knows a little something about the topic, with eight years of running the Myers Pumpkin Patch & Corn Maze each fall, and a greenhouse in the spring, under her belt.

“When I started, I didn’t have a name for it,” she said in her favorite oft-used quote about agritourism. “I called it ‘survival.’”

TAA will hold its business meeting and host a breakfast the second day of the conference, both of which are open to all attendees. There are two levels of membership – $50 per year for business owners or operators and $25 for associate members, either individuals supporting agriculture or organizations and agencies affiliated with it. (The association already has a dedicated website at www.visittnfarms.com but it is not yet functional.)

Sponsors for the conference in addition to UT include state departments of Agriculture, Tourist Development and Economic and Community Development, and Tennessee Farm Bureau. Funding comes from these partners, TAA and USDA Rural Development.

Early registration for the Jan. 22-23 conference is open through Dec. 15, for $75; after that, it is $125. It may be possible to register at the conference, but Bruch recommends doing so ahead of time, since organizers are expecting only about 300 people.

It will be at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center, which is offering a special $69/night rate. More information about lodging and the conference itself can be found online at http://cpa.utk.edu/level2/agritourism/2007agritourconf or by calling the Center for Profitable Agriculture at 931-486-2777.

This farm news was published in the Jan. 3, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

1/3/2007