The 2008 “Agritourism: Cultivating Farm Revenue” conference is slated for Jan. 17-18 at Paris Landing State Park in West Tennessee.

“Agritourism — the part of the agriculture industry that involves inviting the public right onto the farm for activities or farm products — continues to grow in Tennessee, and our annual conference is growing right along with it,” says Pamela Bartholomew, agritourism coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

“We’ll have the kinds of educational sessions that our farm fun operators have come to rely on, but we’re also adding new layers of activities based on their own increasing levels of experience,” says Bartholomew. “We’ll be bringing in experts to teach as we always have, but our farmers will be teaching each other, too.”

Previous participants in the conference will again have the chance to meet with equipment dealers, service providers and representatives from other related businesses at an on-site trade show. The annual membership meeting of the Tennessee Agritourism Association will also be held during the conference.

Perhaps most important, though, says Bartholomew, may be that once-a-year opportunity producers get to talk to each other — in specific scheduled sessions dedicated to current industry issues, or just out in the hall or at a banquet table.

“We’ll have the breakout sessions our conference participants have come to count on,” says Bartholomew. “There will be sessions about charging sales tax, how to set up and run a retail shop on your farm, and how to navigate state programs and regulations for directional signs to your farm.

“There’s a session dedicated to using educational materials as part of your farm activities and another on incorporating your farm’s natural resources into the package of options you can offer visitors.

“But this year, the real stars of the conference will be the agritourism operators themselves. We’re asking participants to bring their photographs, their stories and experiences to share. They’ll be featured in a special exhibit.”

“We’re calling one session, ‘What Flew, and What Flopped’,” says Bartholomew. “That should be a lot of fun. We’ll see which of those ideas actually worked, and which ones failed — and we’ll get to think and talk about why.”

“On one hand, we still have lots of people in agriculture who don’t understand how they might use agritourism to build their farm incomes,” says Bartholomew. “We also feel there are still lots of farmers in Tennessee who actually are already using agritourism enterprises on their farms — they just don’t realize that their pick-your-own strawberry patch or their stand of Christmas trees is considered agritourism. They’re really missing out on the programs and resources that are now available to them.”

“On the other hand, we have successful agritourism operators who have been in the business right here in Tennessee for years and truly understand what it takes to make a ‘farm fun’ enterprise work. There’s nothing they haven’t encountered and handled.”

“We want to put everybody in the industry, and those who might want to be, under one roof to listen, learn, share and find the support they need to keep growing their ‘farm fun’ ventures.”

The conference is among efforts sponsored by the Tennessee Agritourism Initiative partners to build farm income in the state. Initiative partners include the state departments of Agriculture, Tourist Development and Economic and Community Development; the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation; USDA Rural Development; the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture; UT Extension; and the Tennessee Agritourism Association.

For more information about agritourism or to register for the conference online, visit the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Market Development Web site at www.picktnproducts.org, or to register by phone call (865) 974-0280. Registration is $75 before Jan. 4, 2008. Late registration is $125. For program information, contact Bartholomew at (615) 837-5348, or e-mail Pamela.Bartholomew@state.tn.us.