Rio Culebra Coop manager Bernadette Lucero shared the coop's agritourism success story at the strategic planning session on Monday.
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Locals with an interest in attracting visitors to experience the Valley’s local and unique flavors heard from agritourism and heritage tourism experts on Monday during a strategic planning session at the Ramada Inn.
The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture have teamed up to boost opportunities for travelers to capitalize on the statewide agritourism boom and to move forward as the first state in the nation to unite its food with heritage. The Alamosa workshop was the first of seven scheduled throughout the state to share tips and hear the local needs to take the movement to the next level.
In Colorado, agritourism is defined as “the practice of engaging in activities, events and services that have been provided to consumers for recreational, entertainment or educational purposes at a farm, ranch or other agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation in order to allow consumers to experience, learn about and participate in various facets of agricultural industry, culinary pursuits, natural resources and heritage.” In the Valley, groups like the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition have been taking steps to bring such activity to the Valley through a local foods guide, farmers’ markets and community gardens. With 57.9 million travelers in Colorado last year, the state’s thinking to bring them to the agricultural lands is right in line with what is already in place between the Sangres and the San Juans.
“We are going to push you to say how you can take this wealth to the travelers,” said Judy Walden, of the Walden Mills Group that is working hand in hand with the CTO’s Cultural, Heritage and Agritourism program. “Travelers want distinction. You can taste it. You can put your feet on the ground.”
In 2007, 700 out of 37,000 Colorado farms (2 percent) joined the agritourism movement and it resulted in approximately $53 million in revenue.
“This is a true retail source of revenue,” said Dan Hobbs, a Pueblo County farmer who is part of the state’s planning effort. “You can have the food and farm experience on the farm or on the ranch. There is no leaving (the farm) and better (farm) management.”
He added that making sure all stakeholders are involved with agritourism development reduces duplication.
“There are lots of people with good ideas and poor coordination,” Hobbs said. “We have a good head start. It is exciting the state is taking the time.”
Kelli Helper, Delta County tourism, explained to the full audience the many reasons agritourism is a worthwhile endeavor. Overall, she said, people of all ages and backgrounds want to find a connection to the land.
“It’s the green acres ideal,” Helper said. “Let’s go back to the farm and touch the Earth.”
She added agritourism in Colorado offers tourists access to heirloom crops and techniques, tours of production facilities, community supported agriculture projects and getaways like fly fishing and hunting retreats, but its success greatly depends on partnerships that bring together the producer, the cook, the rancher and the media to cater to the tourist.
“It is really amazing what people are willing to pay for,” said Colorado Department of Agriculture Marketing Specialist Wendy White. “We need to remember all of these things we take for granted that people are willing to pay to do.”
Hooper’s own Colorado Gators proves White’s point since people have come from all over the states and abroad to wrestle an alligator that is part of the local fish production food chain. Jay Young, Colorado Gators, said people would pay upwards of $100 to wrestle an alligator that needs to be brought to shore regardless.
“They’re people that not only want to do it, but they want their kids to do it,” Young said. “Don’t be afraid of the mindset that people will pay to do the work.”
Other suggestions and ideas included developing the Valley’s agritourism and heritage tourism message to help with marketing; creating maps and signage to help those from urban areas navigate the rural roads; a focus on land conservation and restoration; connecting farm and ranch tours and experiences to outdoor recreation; capitalizing on existing tourist attractions like the annual Crane Festival and the Rio Grande Healthy Living Park proposed for the old Polston Elementary site.