Oct 2, 2014
Agritourism professionals create association

In August, a new organization, the National Agritourism Professionals Association (NAPA), was formed to help support the agritourism industry and the people working within it. Its focus will be on issues such as zoning, regulations, insurance, risk management and public policy, rather than the nuts-and-bolts of developing, managing and promoting farm enterprises. NAPA is especially intended for service providers in government, cooperative Extension and other institutions or organizations who work with agritourism venues. The new association welcomes farmers as well, according to organizers.

NAPA is expected to complement the mission and activities of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA), which has a long history of holding farm tours and conferences for its membership, mostly farm operators.

“There is absolutely room for two organizations with an agritourism focus, and I totally support it and hope it gets a good start,” said Charlie Touchette, NAFDMA’s executive director. “I anticipate the two organizations working very closely together.”

Similarly, Jane Eckert, owner of Eckert AgriMarketing and an agritourism consultant, said, “I think it’s great that our industry has matured to the point where an organization like this is both needed and viable.”

One important role it can play, Eckert said, is to facilitate states’ learning from those that have already developed laws or regulations to protect agritourism activities, such as limits on liability, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

“Part of what is needed is education of legislators and local governments, especially those that are under pressure to impede some of the growth in agritourism,” Eckert said. “They need to realize that farmers need these activities in order to stay in business – it’s not the same as 50 years ago.”

Agritourism certainly faces many concerns beyond how to bring the public to the farm and how to successfully and profitably provide them the best products or experiences. Should farms with agritourism activities be treated and regulated as farms, food providers, entertainment businesses or some combination? Though communities like the idea of local foods, will they support u-pick operations and seasonal farm activities by allowing farms to put up signs? Can farm insurance begin to recognize the added value that agritourism brings to a corn maze or pumpkin patch beyond the value of the crop itself?

NAPA has its roots in the Southeast Region Agritourism Council (SERAC), a group of rural tourism service providers and famers in 14 southeastern states who organized in 2005 to address a similar set of issues. As word of SERAC spread – and as more and more states and local governments recognized the importance of agritourism – interest in forming a national organization increased.

The effort has been spearheaded by Martha Glass, who from 2003 to 2013 served as manager for the Agritourism Office of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Glass started North Carolina’s state organization, the Agritourism Networking Association and served on NAFDMA’s board from 2011 to 2014. She is NAPA’s executive director.

“Martha has been a powerhouse in getting this started,” Touchette said.

Close to 250 agritourism service providers and agricultural interests – from all 50 states and seven Canadian provinces – have already expressed support for organizing NAPA. The association held its first organizational meeting Aug. 12 in Indianapolis.

Representatives of 21 U.S. states and Canadian provinces attended either in person or by teleconference, adopted bylaws, formed the initial board of directors and set dues. NAPA plans to have its first conference in 2015.

“We plan to offer train-the-trainer sessions to help each other go back home and bring needed information to growers,” Glass said. “Where changes in regulations and policies are needed, whether at the federal, state or local level, we’d also like to develop the expertise for grassroots efforts that can make those changes happen.”

Conferences will take participants to visit farms and discuss their agritourism activities and issues, providing a forum where those who have successful programs can share with those who are struggling or have less support.

The new organization can play a crucial role in helping state agritourism associations succeed. NAPA will provide valuable peer-to-peer networking and discussion to assist its members. As a clearinghouse gathering models and examples from many areas, the association can help farmers and service providers when they face issues such as signage and zoning and seek precedents for solutions found by other agritourism professionals or communities, according to organizers.

Charter memberships for the remainder of 2014 and memberships for 2015 are now being accepted ($40 for 2014 and $100 for 2015). For more information and a membership application, visit NAPA's website.

Debby Wechsler

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