Development director encourages agritourism

Staff writer

Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman has a map in her office. Not of Kansas, but of Oklahoma, and it’s all about agritourism.

“It’s all color coordinated. It’s wonderful,” she said. “Oklahoma gets agritourism.”

Agritourism is an idea that has taken off across the Midwest. Agricultural businesses invite people to observe or help with their business operations for a fee.

Huffman would love to see a map like Oklahoma’s for Kansas but believes there is a ways to go before the state can truly embrace agritourism.

“Things like wineries, pumpkin patches, birding, horseback riding, and dude or guest ranches all apply,” Huffman said. “People love the authentic experience.”

However, she is not getting the same vibe from area residents. Huffman said that when she holds classes on how to start agritourism, often people from other counties are the only ones to sign up.

“People are busy and don’t want to take the classes,” she said. “I understand. They don’t want to work all day and then come into town at the end of the day.”

Huffman believes some county operations would make prime agritourism locations—people like Ron Jirak and his vegetable and fruit growing operation outside Tampa.

“It’s probably interesting,” Jirak said. “I don’t know if it has a purpose. It might raise awareness.”

Jirak supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to Carlsons’ and other area food stores, farmers’ markets and several roadside stands. Right now, he said, there is nothing to really see or do, but in a few weeks when harvest starts, there would be.

Still Jirak doesn’t see much benefit much from agritourism.

“I think the money brought into the county or farm would be minimal at best,” he said.

Huffman believes differently.

“It would be a good way to subsidize operations,” Huffman said. “City people want to get out and ride in a combine, and they will pay.”

She said most people use liability as an excuse; few know that the state offers a no-liability clause to agriculture businesses as long as they post a special sign on their property. Signs render the operation liability free for anyone who is injured when practicing safe agriculture practices.

“The state has established a new committee aimed at promoting these types of operations,” Huffman said. “They are getting ready to have several workshops across the state on the subject.”

While Huffman says it would take some work for people to start up an agritourism operation, she believes many operations would benefit.

“We have places here with potential and it could be a good opportunity for them,” she said. “The possibilities are endless. I hope in time Kansas will have a map better than Oklahoma’s that will point all these places out.”

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