Featured Image Photo credit: GeoCore Creative, Cary Kanoy. Josh Snider at Snider’s Dairy Farm tell participants about their farm and practices. He is also a Future Farmers of America instructor and works with many of the high schools in Davidson County.
When Cary and Grace Kanoy of the Davidson County Local Food Network decided to organize a Farm Tour in Davidson County, they knew that they did not have to re-invent the wheel. They followed the model of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) Piedmont Farm Tour. In CFSA’s self-guided model, each participating farm runs its own tour, and visitors choose which farms to visit independently in their own vehicles. “It was really helpful to follow CFSA’s model,” says Grace. “We are a small group and it made organizing a Farm Tour accessible to us.”
With the farm and visitor logistics taken care of, the Food Council focused their efforts on marketing. With a mini-grant received from Community Food Strategies, matching funds contributed by the Davidson County Health Department, and additional in-kind support from N.C. Cooperative Extension, they were able to cover printing costs for fliers and posters, Facebook ads, and radio advertising on NPR stations. They charged $5 per car with an early bird rate so they could get a sense of how many people to expect.
The food council’s marketing efforts paid off. The first Davidson County Farm Tour, in 2018, attracted more than 200 participants, many from outside of Davidson County. “We really had a wonderful response,” says Grace. The tour featured six farms showcasing different production systems from beef to pastured poultry, certified organic herbs to vegetables and nursery plants. For the 2019 Farm Tour, the number of participating farms grew to nine.
“We view the farm tour as an economic development event,” says Grace. “It builds credibility for the food council and shows how it can support local businesses.” She also notes the educational benefit of the tour for people who are thinking about going into farming. “The farm tour fills an educational role in making information available to beginning farmers and giving people the chance to see successful examples,” she says. The experience of hosting public visitors also gave some farmers the confidence to organize subsequent agritourism events on their farms.
The mini-grant from Community Food Strategies “was a catalyst in making the Farm Tour happen,” says Grace. “You don’t need a lot of money, you just need a little bit so that you’re not wondering how you’re going to do it all,” she says. The group was also able to attract sponsorships from North Carolina Farm Bureau, the Small Business Center at Davidson County Community College, and the Davidson County Tourism Recreation Investment Partnership.
Other food councils in North Carolina have held successful farm tours as well, including Scotland Grows. Led by Shannon Newton of N.C. Cooperative Extension, Noran Sanford of the nonprofit organization Growing Change, and Clifton Dial of St. Andrews University, Scotland Grows pulled together community partners and resources to hold their first farm tour in 2018. “We wanted to connect local people with local farmers,” explains Shannon.
The organizing committee decided to rent vans to transport participants to each farm on a rotating schedule. “We are such a small county that providing transportation was of value to us, as it kept the farms from having to stop what they were doing each time a person visited,” says Shannon. Five farms were selected that demonstrated diverse production systems – Growing Change, an apiary, a vineyard, a wholesale plant farm, and a produce farm. The tour was free but participants had to register in advance. Despite uncertainty about how many people would register for the event, it sold out. “We’ve never done anything like this before, it was incredible,” says Shannon.
They received a mini-grant from Community Food Strategies, additional support from the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and in-kind support from N.C. Cooperative Extension to cover renting the vans as well as a hot meal at one of the stops. “The micro-grants were essential,” says Noran. “They allowed a small start-up organization like ours to be able to do this.”
The goal of connecting people to their local growers was achieved. “Several people who have lived here all their lives said that they never knew these farms were here,” says Shannon. The farm tour was even featured in the local paper. It was a positive experience for the participating farmers as well. “The growers really seemed to enjoy connecting to the public and being honored for their role as growers,” says Noran. And, he says, the youth of Growing Change felt pride in their community and in their roles as leaders.
“It really created this synergy between the different groups,” he adds. “We’ve demonstrated success and created buy-in for our local food council.” The group is planning to organize another farm tour in fall 2019. Based on feedback from last year’s participants, they will make the tour shorter and feature four new farms.
As to the challenges of organizing a Farm Tour in a primarily rural county? “It was almost too easy,” Shannon says. “It all just fell into place.”