A west Volusia County effort hopes to create a new industry bringing tourists and farmers together.
Together they are starting the state's first widespread organized foray into agritourism, establishing the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, which will promote 70 cultural and heritage properties.
"I'm interested in how to market our agriculture and how to get the word out," says Sylvia Crump, whose family-owned VoLaSalle Farms has operated the Volusia citrus grove for five generations since 1885 and owns a corn and soy farm in LaSalle, Ill.
By joining forces, the farms and cultural destinations such as parks and museums can attract people who might never drive off the beaten path from Daytona Beach and the theme parks.
"I think it will help the farmers increase their income and be able to hold onto their farm property instead of being bombarded by Realtors who'd like to buy it," says Crump, a member of Florida's committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. "You work so hard. It takes a year to grow an orange, and you get so little for it. And you get discouraged. And you think about selling."
The heritage corridor is headed by Renee Tallevast, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Bureau. Its first meeting earlier this year attracted about 30 farmers who heard a presentation from a group operating a heritage corridor in Tallevast's home state of South Carolina.
The west Volusia effort includes a handbook with tips for farmers on writing a business plan, purchasing liability insurance and marketing their properties. Besides citrus, the corridor includes a variety of farms: Dairy, cattle, sod, bees, ferns, vegetables, foliage and herbs.
How viable is agritourism? According to the Department of Agriculture, 63 million Americans ages 16 and over visit farms annually. That doesn't include the millions of children whose field trips and summer school programs take them there.
Eventually, Tallevast wants to see neighboring counties join the effort and take it statewide. But for now she's concentrating on west Volusia and hopes to see results in six months. She envisions tours with themes such as the pioneer days, the steamboat industry along the St. Johns River or the history of citrus.
"A heritage corridor, to be successful, has to have a heart and a soul," Tallevast says. "It has to be like a living, breathing entity because the folks in the corridor are living and breathing, and we want to tell their story."
Types of Agritourism
Heritage TourismFeatures historical sites to educate visitors about nation's past.
Flexible income source, allowing operators to control when farms are open, such as during certain seasons.
Historic farm tours
Cultural events such as fairs and festivals
Alternative EnterprisesRely on natural resources of the land
Keep the farm in the family
Keep the family on the farm
Require land conservation
Fee-based outdoor recreation - bird-watching, fishing, scenic trails
Equipment rental -- canoes, fishing tackle
Value-added products -- goat cheese, herbs, Christmas trees
Alternative marketing -- roadside fruit stands, pick-your-own fruit
Public events -- music festivals, hayrides, pumpkin carving
Hospitality services -- cabin rentals, country weddings
Educational activities -- cattle roping, flour milling
Facility tours -- fish farms, livestock operations, wineries
Family Getaways: Travel Plans
A recent online survey on family travel preferences conducted by Yahoo! Travel and National Geographic Traveler magazine found that 58% plan to take two or more family getaways in the next 12 months, compared to 48% last year. Road trips are the most popular choice, the survey found. In fact, 57% of respondents selected a car (their own or a rental) as the preferred mode of transportation for their family vacation. Airplanes ranked a distant second (33%), followed by a cruise (4%), camper/RV (3%) and train (2%).