Agriculture and tourism —two of Wisconsin'smost important industries —are teaming up insouthwestern Wisconsin. A pilot project has foundthat tourists, rural communities, and some farmerscould benefit from stronger efforts to promote and market agricultural tourism there.
In 1990, agricultural tourism project members surveyed 290 visitors to the annual MonroeCheese Festival and 164 visitors to the Picnic on the Farm, a one-time event held in Platteville inconjunction with the Chicago Bears summer training camp. More than one-half of thosesurveyed responded favorably to a proposed tour, saying they would be interested inparticipating in some type of agricultural tour in southwestern Wisconsin.
Survey respondents reported that they would prefer to visit cheese factories, sausageprocessing plants, dairy farms, and historical farm sites, as well as enjoy an old-fashioned picnicdinner. The study also found strong interest in visiting specialty farms (strawberries,cranberries, poultry, etc.).
More than 75 percent of the Cheese Day visitors planned ahead for the trip, with 37 percentplanning at least two months in advance. More than 40 percent of the visitors came to Monroefor two- or three-day visits. Many stopped at other communities on their way to Cheese Days.
Visitors at both events indicated that they were there to enjoy themselves and were willingto spend money on food and arts and crafts. They also wanted the opportunity to experiencethe "country" while there.
The study found that planning around existing events should take into account whatbrought visitors to the area and provide additional attractions that will appeal to them. Forexample, visitors to Cheese Days said they were on a holiday and appeared to be more open tovarious tour proposals. Picnic visitors came specifically to see the Chicago Bears practice. Theyshowed less interest in a proposed agricultural tour than Cheese Day visitors, but more interestin a picnic dinner.
The study identified three primary audiences for agricultural tourism: 1) elderly peoplewho take bus tours to see the country; 2) families interested in tours that could be enjoyed byboth parents and children; and 3) persons already involved in agriculture, including internationalvisitors.
Agricultural tourism can serve to educate urban tourists about the problems and challengesfacing farmers, says Andy Lewis, Grant county community development agent. Whileagriculture is vital to Wisconsin, more and more urban folk are becoming isolated from theindustry. In fact, Lewis notes, farmers are just as interested in the educational aspects ofagricultural tours as they are in any financial returns.
"Farmers feel that urban consumers are out of touch with farming," Lewis says. "If touristscan be educated on issues that concern farmers, those visits could lead to policies morefavorable to agriculture."
Animal rights and the environment are examples of two issues that concern both urbanconsumers and farmers. Farm tours could help consumers get the farmer's perspective onthese issues, Lewis notes.
Several Wisconsin farms already offer some type of learning experience for tourists.However, most agricultural tourism enterprises currently market their businesses independently,leading to a lack of a concerted effort to promote agricultural tourism as an industry.
Lewis is conducting the study with Jean Murphy, assistant community development agent.Other participants include UW-Platteville Agricultural Economist Bob Acton, the Center forIntegrated Agricultural Systems, UW-Extension Recreation Resources Center, the WisconsinRural Development Center, and Hidden Valleys, a Southwestern Wisconsin regional tourismorganization.
This past fall, Murphy organized several workshops with some Green and Grant Countyfarmers, local business leaders, and motor coach tour operators to discuss how best toorganize and put on farm tours. Committees were formed to look at the following: tour siteevaluations, inventory of the area's resources, tour marketing, and familiarization of tours.The fourth committee is organizing tours for people such as tour bus guides and local reportersto help better educate them about agricultural tourism.
Green County farmers already have experience hosting visitors during the annual MonroeCheese Days. Green county Tourism Director Larry Lindgren says these farmers are set to goahead with more formal agricultural tours next year. The tours will combine a farm visit with avisit to a local cheese factory and a picnic lunch.
Another farm interested in hosting an organized tour is Sinsinawa, a 200-acre GrantCounty farm devoted to sustainable agriculture and run by the Dominican Sisters. Educationplays a major role at the farm, which has an orchard, dairy and beef cows, and hogs.
Farm tours could be combined with other activities in the area such as trips to theMississippi River and/or visits to historical towns or landmarks, Lewis says. The project will helpexpose farmers to the tourism industry and farm vacations as a way to possibly supplementincomes, he adds. While farm families probably wouldn't make a lot of money through farmtours, they would be compensated for their time, says Lewis.
Farmers could earn additional income through the sale of farm products, crafts, andrecreational activities.
Below are results from the 1990 survey of Monroe Cheese Days and Picnic on the Farmvisitors. The first table shows the degree of interest in a proposed agricultural tour. The secondtable shows how the visitors would rank various activities in the proposed tour.