Agritourism conference tours north central Florida farms
The Florida Agritourism Association held its first-ever annual conference in Gainesville this week.
Farm owners from across the state came out to attend seminars and listen to keynote speakers, including Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson. Attendees learned everything from industry regulations and insurance to social media strategy and business planning.
Sarah Harris, one of the association’s directors, said they were expecting around 100 to 150 people to sign up for the conference. Instead, they got over 250 people to attend, plus more who were put on a waitlist.
On the last day of the conference, around 160 of the guests went on a tour of local agritourism farms.
Lena Juárez, executive director of the association, said they’d done farm tours in the past and knew it would be a success again.
“It’s about showcasing what assets you have on your property that the public would like to see, to learn about what’s happening on your farm,” she said.
The first stop on the tour was Island Grove Wine Company, a fruit winery near Hawthorne.
Tour guests got to see behind the scenes of the winemaking process, including the metal vats that hold up to 25,000 bottles worth of wine each. They also got to sample the different varieties of wines that Island Grove has to offer. These include their specialty, blueberry wine, as well as other fruit varieties and sparkling wines.
Conference attendee Marsha Bernard said she learned a lot from the winery.
“We love the fact that Island Grove not only has a fantastic farm, but they did build something for the community to come and see and do, and I think that’s important in agritourism,” she said.
Next, guests drove to Williston to visit Amber Brooke Farms, a 100-acre agritourism farm with fields of blueberries, strawberries and peaches for people to come pick themselves during U-Pick season. The farm also has family-friendly activities and hosts seasonal festivals.
General Manager Heather Ray said she loves educating tourists about where their food comes from.
“I think people come out here for that experience, typically, who have never been to a farm. So it’s a good learning opportunity for them,” she said.
Ray said the conference guests asked a lot of good questions, everything from basic farm management to social media marketing.
The next fruit season for Amber Brooke Farms will be the strawberry season, which starts in November.