Have you ever thought about letting a tourist ride along as you combine? Farmers and ranchers who combine their agricultural operations with nature-based tourism activities can apply for state grants to help market their ventures.
The North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) offers nature-based agri-tourism grants to qualified North Dakota businesses. These grants support advertising and marketing to attract visitors to a working farm or ranch, or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation where they can enjoy, be educated or be involved in activities.
Examples of eligible projects include farm or ranch tours, hands-on chores, self-harvesting (u-pick) produce, hunting or fishing operations, trail rides, bird watching, corn mazes and farmers markets.
“Agri-tourism is the perfect combination of North Dakota's two biggest industries - agriculture and tourism,” said Sara Otte Coleman, director of the Tourism Division in the North Dakota Department of Commerce. “Tourists know we are an agricultural state and they look for and expect to find agri-tourism experiences.”
Otte Coleman said agri-tourism activities are the type of authentic, nature-related, family friendly attractions that are in high demand today among travelers.
“North Dakota agriculture is about families, not corporations,” she said. “Tourists like that. There is a big trend in the industry toward activities that promote ‘getting back to basics.' Many travelers are interested in the environment and they relate agriculture to nature and family values.”
Her advice to those interested in creating an agri-tourism business is to start small and begin planning now for next year.
“Begin with a few weekends of events and activities,” she said. “If there's success, build on that by adding more dates or building infrastructure. Partner with local hotels and bed and breakfasts and tie into existing events or festivals.”
John Schneider, executive director of APUC, said the grants can be used to promote a business or an event, and he emphasized that applications that include multiple agri-tourism activities within one region are more likely to receive a larger grant.
“We love to see applications that include several agri-tourism events within one area,” Schneider said. “These can become a great hook for bringing tourists to your region.”
Red Trail Vineyard in Buffalo has used agri-tourism grants to promote its annual event, the North Dakota Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival. Red Trail Vineyard sponsors tours for those interested in viticulture (the process of growing grapes). In addition to touring the vineyards, participants learn about the history of the area and vineyards as well as the process of starting and maintaining a cold-climate grape vineyard.
The Red Barn and Berry Farm, located on 40-acres near Kindred, also used a grant to promote their u-pick raspberries. In addition to growing raspberries, owners Karen and Chris Gehrig plan to renovate their barn to rent for weddings, receptions, farmers' markets, festivals and other social events. They have also planted apple trees for a future u-pick mini orchard. They will be using their grant funds to develop a logo, brochures, signage and a website.
For more agri-tourism events, see http://www.ndtourism.com/.
Grant applications are reviewed quarterly. The next deadline is Oct. 1. Schneider encourages potential applicants to begin planning and collaborating now on grants to support activities for this fall, winter or next summer.