Food for thought: Agricultural and culinary tourism: the perfect pairing

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Wine and chocolate. Milk and cookies. Cheese and apples. The most successful pairings enhance both components for a more delicious experience overall. Such is the case with Agriculinary Tourism, a term coined to describe the intersection between agricultural and culinary experiences. These experiences link visitors in a tangible and delicious way to our local foodshed; offer regional farmers, producers, and restaurants a new source of revenue; and are the focus of a one-day conference occurring on March 5 in Downtown Ithaca.


“It encompasses the farm and food connections,” explained Monika Roth, Ag Extension Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Agritourism in and of itself is its own entity … but the culinary aspect is bringing in the chefs and promoting the eating and enjoyment of local food.”


In Tompkins County, this takes many forms.


“Agritourism started out with essentially pick-your-own,” recounted Roth.


Farms like Littletree Orchards in Newfield, Bakers Acres in Lansing, and Indian Creek Farm in Ithaca established their fields as a destination where locals and visitors alike could enjoy a hands-on outing. This was appealing for young children, so school groups and families became early agritourism participants. Small, diversified farms saw that they could also appeal to this audience, and new activities began to emerge. For example, RoseBarb Farm in Caroline renovated an old farm cottage into comfortable accommodations and have hosted curious families for extended stays ever since.


“I think those make the most interesting farms [for guests],” reflected Roth. “They’ve got unique products like mushrooms, interesting heritage breeds of livestock, and then they might have those value-added products already.”


Well Spring Forest Farm in Trumansburg illustrates this nicely, farming mushrooms, ducks, lamb, sugarbush, and elderberries. Value-added products, such as jam and maple syrup, serve as the perfect souvenir from the trip.
Of course, national conversations about how our food is sourced and produced encouraged a shift in farm offerings.


“It has evolved,” agreed Roth. Now, “it’s learning about how things are made – how cheese is made, the bread [baking] classes – it’s really getting into the learning experience right on site.”


Her comments referenced two businesses who have truly capitalized on the shift: Lively Run Dairy in Interlaken, which offers regular educational tours, a cheese tasting room, and opportunities to pet their goats; and Wide Awake Bakery in Mecklenburg, whose monthly bread baking classes attract eager novices from all over the country.


Which brings us to the intersection with culinary tourism as the pursuit of regional cuisine and unique food experiences, often as a central driver of vacation decisions. The 2010 Profile of Visitors to Tompkins County conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics found that “restaurants and dining” ranked third as a motivating factor for travel to the county. Restaurants boasting farm-to-table fare are the natural first stop for the conscientious diner.


“We have about 20 [restaurants] which are dedicated. … where buying local is just part of their core fabric – it’s institutionalized for them,” Roth sees this as an opportunity for the industry. “It’s a marketing opportunity. It’s great if they have that as a value and they can say ‘this is our value, to buy local.’ Sometimes they don’t even promote it … or the minimum they do is have a list [of farms] and they don’t necessarily tie it to each ingredient.”


With so many epicurious travelers already in the region, attractions such as Healthy Food For All’s farm dinners, The Finger Lakes Cheese Trail, and the Ithaca Farmers Market are perfectly poised to connect the two worlds.


“[The Ithaca Famer’s Market] was my first agriculinary tourism experience in Ithaca,” recalled Kendall Blizzard. “The first time I came here; it was the most exciting thing for me.”


As the Agriculinary Tourism and Marketing Coordinator for the Ithaca/Tompkins Convention & Visitors Bureau, Blizzard is tasked with elevating the profile of the aforementioned attractions.


“A word that keeps coming up for me is ‘terroir’,” said Blizzard. The term is most often referenced when discussing the characteristics of wine; it encompasses the complete natural environment in which a crop is grown, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. “I think it’s a good example of Ithaca too. Meeting the people, tasting the food from the land, and having these experiences that are unique … are still in a way tasting the terroir.”


In her role at the CVB, Blizzard also supports agriculture and culinary businesses interested in developing experiences to capture visitor interest and encourage out of town and overnight visitation. To that end, she has been collaborating with the Tompkins County Tourism Program and CCE-TC to plan the Agriculinary Tourism Conference occurring on March 5 at the Hotel Ithaca.
The day will kick off with a Keynote presentation by Mindy & Oskar Viscarro of Becker Farms, a working 340-acre farm just east of Buffalo where they host every type of experience possible: from a farm store to weddings to lodgings and catering.


“We really want it to be an inspirational conference,” Blizzard elaborated, “where it will spark an idea … of an event or classes or tours – things that [the attendees] know that they can handle, capacity wise, infrastructure wise, management wise.”


The itinerary quickly transitions to focused panel sessions featuring local farmers and chefs, with the goal of offering all attendees a range of examples and speakers. Panel topics include Farm to Table Cuisine – Creating Successful Farmer-Chef Relationships, Hosting Private Events, Digging Deeper: Seed to Table, and Providing Overnight Accommodations. “We really want to provide a diverse knowledge base,” explained Blizzard.


During the afternoon’s General Session, Dr. Cory Young – Associate Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College – will offer the final piece of the puzzle: strategies for marketing these new experiences through digital and social media platforms. The event will conclude with a social hour, allowing time for attendees to begin the conversations which will hopefully lead to fruitful new endeavors.


For full conference program and registration information, visit business.tompkinschamber.org/events/details/agriculinary-tourism-conference-2019-189414.


Food For Thought is a monthly column highlighting the hidden gems of the culinary world across Tompkins County. Sarah Barden is a dedicated foodie who, along with her husband, shares her passion with neighbors and visitors through their business Ithaca is Foodies Culinary Tours. Find more information at IthacaIsFoodies.com.

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