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Agri-tourism could be the county’s next big thing

Posted on December 23, 2014 by Sunny South News

Agri-tourism is big business these days and Lethbridge County wants to get on board the agri-tourism bus, so to speak. Agri-tourism was discussed by Lethbridge County council at a recent council meeting held Dec. 4.

According to a report submitted to council, Lethbridge County hosted a University of Lethbridge student Fabio Coppola for one day a week from September to December 2014, as part of the university’s applied studies program. Coppola was assisting the Economic Development Officer (EDO) by researching and inventorying agri-tourism operations and opportunities for Lethbridge County. Coppola submitted a report to council for consideration. There was no cost to the county for hosting the applied studies student.

“During my time here I was able to perform research on case studies on agri-tourism in North America with a little bit of a heavier focus on Canadian jurisdictions. This kind of led to the creation of this agri-tourism report,” said Coppola, during his report to council. Coppola is in his fourth year at the U of L.

Coppola’s report included a definition of what agri-tourism is and its basic reasons for diversification, what the county’s role would be and practical resources the county could utilize for agri-tourism opportunities.

Simply put, Coppola said, agri-tourism is any practice developed on a working farm with the purpose of attracting a visitor.

Resources in the county, stated in the report include educational experiences, agricultural activities, accommodations and entertainment.

Coppola explained educational experiences include exhibits, tours, demonstrations to explain the process of how something is made or its cultural history.

Coppola said the county is quite heavy into agricultural activities and agri-tourism could include U-Pick operations and basic farm activities.

Entertainment opportunities, according to the student, could include the Lethbridge Corn Maze, hayrides, petting zoos and Dark Sky Tourism, which is stargazing. Stargazing, Coppola noted, is quite popular in Jasper and in other places across North America. “It’s starting to gain quite a bit in popularity,” he said.

Coppola said as for benefits for the county an increase in revenue, increase in employment, landscape preservation and tax incentives are a few. “It can go many different ways depending on how you diversify your agri-tourism route,” said Coppola, adding agri-tourism can be family-oriented and relatively inexpensive.

“Most importantly, I think it’s a showcase for the county for future investment. Show people this is a diversified county with many opportunities,” he added.

As for the county’s role moving forward with agri-tourism opportunities Coppola said, the county could be a conduit in providing assistance as a point of contact or could provide direction for agri-businesses interested in agri-tourism throughout the county.

A few cost free or inexpensive methods to boost agri-tourism in the county could include using Google Maps on the county’s new website, brochures, bus tours in the county and open farm days.

Looking forward, Coppola said, agri-tourism is a great diversification for local family farms due to the consolidation of corporate farming. “It’s difficult for family farms to stay competitive,” said Coppola, and to keep food on their tables.

Agri-tourism is a niche, which would support the county’s agriculture industry.

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