Agri-tourism may help economy

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Joint Economic and Community Development Board in Marshall County has committees on various topics including the Three-Star Agriculture Committee that met last week to brainstorm on how to promote tourism at farms.

Agri-Tourism is presented as a growing part of the tourism industry which in Marshall County would include a pick-your-own peach orchard, catch-your-own fish farms, and a family farm offering horse rides, Christmas tees and Halloween events.

Tours of goat farms, accessed by a shuttle bus during Goats Music and More next October is another example of agri-tourism, according to discussion among members of the Three-Star Agriculture Committee when they met in the Hardison Office Annex on College Street.

The tourism industry is presented by state employees of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC) as a way to increase money in a local economy with nominal investment and very little government services needed. That's in direct contrast with, for example, a new factory that attracts new residents with children who would attend local schools. Education is the largest part of any county's budget.

TDEC enforces a state law that requires all counties to have a 20-year growth plan that largely focuses on annexation by municipalities, but the law also calls for a Joint Economic and Community Development Board (JECDB). TDEC rates counties' development programs and designates them as Three Star Communities. The Three Star designation is symbolic of the three stars on the state flag representing the three grand divisions of the state.

Marshall County's JECDB Three Star Agriculture Committee has set May16 as a tentative date for another meeting to proceed with plans to further develop agri-tourism in the county, according to Mike Wiles, executive director of the JECDB. His office is on the ground floor of the Marshall County Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square with the county mayor's office.

The Three Star Agriculture Committee workshop will have Dan Strasser as the featured speaker. Strasser is the director of market development for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. He's scheduled to discuss "people involved in agri-tourism and how to get grants for things like signage" directing motorists to such businesses, Wiles said.

In August, Wiles said, the committee hopes to have an event to promote agri-tourism places in Marshall County. It could include an event in conjunction with the Farmers' Market in Rock Creek Park.

In September, the Three Star Agriculture Committee hopes to partner with the Farm Bureau ladies for a trip to the University of Tennessee Dairy Research and Agriculture Center on New Lake Road.

In October, the committee sees the Goats Music and More Festival as a time to offer tours to goat farms. Late in the Three Star Agriculture Committee meeting on Wednesday, there was a suggestion to try to have such a tour during the Lewisburg Rotary Club's barbecue in June. The suggestion came as some concern was raised about how busy some goat farmers would be during the GM&M Festival.