Down on the Farm
Touring the farm has never been so attractive--both for families seeking a different kind of tourist attraction and for those who are turning family farms into alternative businesses. It's called agri-tourism.
We started the trip to Harrodsburg like any other couple, but by the time my wife, Virginia, and I drove to the end of the twisting gravel road that leads to Canaan Land Farm Bed & Breakfast, we were transformed. We were agri-tourists.
We fed carrots to April and May, the "guard donkeys" who look out for the farm's 14 sheep and four goats; searched for two wild peacocks inside an old barn and finally found them--on a rafter 20 feet straight up; and stepped into the cozy pen of miniature pigs Inky and Pinky, giving each a pat and a scoop of breakfast feed.
Owners Fred Bee and his wife, Theo, say people have come to their working sheep farm the past 14 years to relax at the brick house, built in 1795, or the 1815 log house. They buy some of Theo's own watercolors and wood-burned gourds, too. And, oh yeah, they might even volunteer to do a little farm work.
In recent years, the Bees, both in their mid-60s, have given way to the physical demands of the place, which is designated a Kentucky Historic Farm. In fact, they have a For Sale sign up. A young couple, Mark and Kirsten Carter, are the innkeepers.
The Bees have whittled their barnyard population down to a few dozen barnyard pets, their "babies," as Theo calls them. Regardless, Theo says, "People who come enjoy these as much as 100 (animals)."
Welcome to agri-tourism. It's a fairly new way for farms to supplement or replace their traditional sources of income, such as tobacco, with something that's totally nontraditional: strangers. Visitors with money to spend.
What's for sale in Kentucky's agri-tourism land? Mountain crafts. A country meal. A horse ride. Herbs. Wine. Fresh veggies. A restored homestead. A school field trip. Even a nostalgic reconnection with the old family farm and its fading memories from bygone years.
That last item is nothing to take lightly, says Bob Stewart, commissioner of the state's department of travel.
"There's a real need out there, especially (among) baby boomers, to give their children an idea of what that's all about," he says.
In 2001, Kentucky's Department of Agriculture formed a study group to encourage the industry's growth in the state. Agricultural tourism, or agri-tourism, got its stamp of legitimacy in 2002, when the Kentucky Legislature approved the plan. Unfortunately, Kentucky's budget dilemma this year has stalled one of the first steps: setting up a statewide office that would show farmers how to get their ideas off the ground.
Like Canaan Land, Haney's Appledale Farm is ahead of the trend. Appledale is a 130-year-old orchard close to Lake Cumberland in Nancy.
In 1993, the owners, brothers Don and Mark Haney, took a chance. They gave in to people who not only stopped in to buy apples but asked, "Why don't you sell some food?"
The Haneys decided to do just that. They built an attractive Pie Shoppe in front of their apple processing and storage building. The main attraction was their mother Oreida's renowned fried apple pie.
"We didn't know if we were going to sell 10 or 1,000," Don says. As it turned out, they sold thousands of them, and the one-time apple wholesaler was pointed squarely in the direction of agri-tourism.
Half of their revenue now comes from their shop and produce store. The shop offers lots of apple-themed items, decorative baskets, pottery, and the like, plus a modest bakery. The rest comes from sales of u-pick apples and peaches, and school tours.
In case his family-outing marketing concept doesn't sink in, Mark throws out a buzzword.
" 'Value-added' business is the thing now," he says.
And like Haney's Appledale Farm, it was the tourists who turned another farm into an agri-tourism business.
Just a few years ago, drivers in Shelby County would be rolling along State Road 12, look off to the side, and see buffalo. Hundreds of buffalo.
The land the animals were grazing on was owned by Bob Allen, a former Louisville-area developer who decided he'd try his hand at raising bison, commonly called buffalo. Allen planned to sell the animal's high-protein, low-fat meat.
His daughter, Jennifer Cox, picks up the story.
"People just kept pulling in the driveway to see the buffalo," she says. "I mean, busloads!"
Recognizing the potential, Cox and others eventually persuaded her father to create a tourist attraction. Several buildings were constructed, and Allen turned over the operation to his children, including Cox, 29, her sister, and three brothers.
Buffalo Crossing Restaurant and Family Fun Ranch opened about two and a half years ago. The centerpiece is a year-round restaurant with a menu that includes only one red meat. You guessed it. Buffalo burgers, buffalo chili, and so on.
One would think a jaw-dropping look at a real buffalo would be the big draw, and it is--among adults--on this 1,000-acre working buffalo ranch.
Children are charmed by other things, Cox says, from paddle boats to pony rides. Add a western-style gift shop, craft demonstrations, and the 500-seat Gathering Hall for groups, and you've got a promising people magnet.
What does agri-tourism look like in northeastern Kentucky?
Well, if you're curious to know how many times Donnie and Helen Crum's craft shop has grown, just take a stroll toward the back. And keep your eyes on the floor.
By the time you've taken in the last of the whimsical folk art, quilts, barnwood prints, jars of native honey, dulcimers, and handmade furniture, you notice that the floor has changed. Four times.
First, there were rough poplar planks, then oak, then poplar again, then pine. Finally, out of wood, here's concrete.
Welcome to The Chicken Coop Arts & Craft Mall, 11 miles north of Grayson in Carter County. If the long, low building really does seem to resemble an old chicken house, well, that's what it was, up until 1987.
Then, in 1994, the new AA Highway opened up, running right past the Crum farm as it made its way from I-64 to Cincinnati. Helen, Donnie's wife, decided to take advantage of being near that modern road. Early the next year, she set up a small fabric room at the front of the old poultry building. It wasn't long before nearby crafters took note of the location and asked if the Crums would sell their goods. A new business was born.
In getting their venture off the ground, the Crums sought advice from the state department of tourism. That included getting help with a name. They were urged to hang on to that rural identity.
"They said, 'Don't try to hide it. It fits,' " Donnie says. The Crums came up with The Chicken Coop.
In its first year, The Chicken Coop Arts & Craft Mall attracted 35 vendors. Today there are 180 of them, plus a waiting list. Donnie estimates he gets more than 10,000 customers a year. The Crums charge vendors a 20 percent commission, which Donnie, a member of Grayson RECC's board of directors, says adds up to a modest income.
About 90 percent of their merchandise is made by area crafters, and Helen says she likes it that way.
"You're helping out a lot of local people," she says.
But it's the real-world business approach that Donnie emphasizes.
By starting out with their chicken house, Donnie says, "We didn't have the overhead. And that made all the difference in the world."
Kentucky Agri-Tourism Destinations
Here is a sampling of agri-tourism attractions across the state. They are open most of the year or year-round.
You can get more information on other agri-tourism attractions by:
* Checking the Web sites of local tourism offices
* Go online to West Kentucky Corporation at www.thinkwestkentucky.com/agritourism, then click on "Agritourism Attractions Across Kentucky by Category"
* Go online to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture at www.kyagr.com, then click on "Buy Kentucky Products"
Benton Farms U-Pick
11946 Old Lexington Pike
Bray Orchards & Roadside Market
2580 Highway 42 West
Buffalo Crossing Restaurant & Family Fun Ranch
1140 Bagdad Road
Canaan Land Farm Bed & Breakfast
700 Canaan Land Road
(888)734-3984 or (859)734-3984
The Chicken Coop Arts & Craft Mall
10813 State Route 9AA Highway
DH Resorts Western Village &
Mountain Lake Manor
1508 Indian Creek Road
Double Stink Hog Farm
5312 Paris Road
1780 Baton Rouge Road
1029 Vigo Road, Highway 1005
Good Shepherd Farm
69 East Drive
Goodin View Farms
569 Highway 208
Haney's Appledale Farm
8350 West Highway 80
Jackson's Orchard & Nursery Inc.
1280 Slim Island Road
Lazy B Farm
4675 Chandlers Road
Olde Gait Farm Bed & Breakfast
7281 Bardstown Road
4818 Highway 144
Sand Hill Farm Garden Center
307 South End Road
Snug Hollow Farm and
790 McSwain Branch (Highway 594)
Springhill Winery & Plantation Bed & Breakfast
3205 Springfield Road
Whispering Woods Riding Stables
265 Wright Lane
Agri-Tourism's Sweat Factor
Agri-tourism. Don't let the word scare you with visions of an exhausting ordeal on a farm--performed while you hold a brochure telling you how much fun you're having.
Other than keeping up with the kids, probably the most taxing activity you'll find will be at a u-pick operation. On down the sweat list are hiking trails, petting zoo animals, and taking on the gift shop.
One of the top candidates for producing the most sweat might be DH Resorts and its Western Village & Mountain Lake Manor in Fleming County. It's a dude ranch, owned by Stephen Dobson and his wife, Charlotte Harris, M.D.
The place offers everything from a bed and breakfast to fishing, hiking, and swimming, restaurant chowdowns, as well as roping seminars.
But it's the horse riding that is the real attraction, where adults can clip-clop through lower basin pastures and hardwood forests.
The most strenuous pursuit?
"Probably the most demanding would be the youth camp for kids," Stephen says. For nearly a week, youngsters not only ride horses, but learn to take care of them.
"Those kids leave knowing they've done something," Charlotte says.