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Happy Valley Agventures Aims to Boost Agritourism in Centre County

by on October 02, 2019 5:45 PM

A new initiative is looking to attract more visitors to Centre County's many and varied agricultural destinations, giving a boost to local tourism and ag industries.

The Happy Valley Agventures campaign was unveiled Wednesday at the Grange fairgrounds in Centre Hall by the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, which last year jointly formed an agritourism committee with local businesses and other stakeholders.

"For travelers who are increasingly looking for more authentic experiences, agritourism is an ideal fit," said CPCVB President and CEO Fritz Smith. "This collaborative initiative seeks to capitalize on this tourism trend by showcasing establishments that are agriculturally focused, open to the public, provide an ag-related experience, or are served by vendors, producers and/or distributors sourced in central Pennsylvania.

"We felt there was an opportunity to distinguish Centre County as a destination for authentic, ag-related experiences."

Those experiences are diverse, and include places such as farms, farmers markets, farm-to-table dining, agricultural-related events, and breweries, wineries and distilleries.

"Agriculture is really at the heart and soul of this area," said Kim Tait, of Tait Farm in Centre Hall. "As a farmer, as a producer of specialty foods and having a place where people can come, it’s wonderful we can all be promoted and celebrated in this region, and everyone can come along. It’s very inclusive, and that was our goal in the creation of this as we began our conversation. Let’s be inclusive… let’s celebrate everyone because it creates a big diversity of opportunities for people to come here."

Agritourism experiences will be promoted through marketing efforts and a website, which includes options to find destinations by categories and locations as well as a calendar of events.

Bellefonte-based 321Blink led the branding and creative effort with several other local creative companies. 321Blink President Mark Dello Stritto said participating destinations will display Happy Valley Agventures signage. He added that the campaign kicks off with an "Autumn Happens Here" theme, which will change as time goes on.

Autumn Happens Here is the introductory theme for the new Happy Valley Agventures campaign unveiled on on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 at the Centre County Grange Fairgrounds. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com

Dello Stritto said that exploring the county's agritourism opportunities, even longtime residents found places they didn't know about.

"What was really fascinating and sort of eye-opening was that we had no idea some of these places existed," Dello Stritto said. "There are pick-your-own farms 10 minutes away from my house I had no idea were there…. To see that tapestry of people and opportunities that are out there is fantastic. Of course I’ve been here for 17 years… that means [Penn State] alumni don’t know about these things. Kids coming for football games don’t know about them. This is a great opportunity to tell everybody."

Smith said that agritourism is a buzzword around the country, but in canvassing other efforts the committee did not find many examples of it being promoted well.

"We wanted to put some real effort behind it — some time effort, some staff effort, some marketing effort," Smith said. "We wanted to really see the marriage of those two industries work."

CBICC President and CEO Vern Squier said that while the tourism aspect is important, so too is bolstering the agriculture that is a vital part of the Centre County economy. According the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for Centre County, farm employment accounted for 1,262 jobs, food manufacturing 183 jobs and a total of all production at 1,602 jobs.

"That really opens up a whole new thought process for what agriculture means, what we can do to help agriculture grow and expose the elements that are already here," Squier said. "We’re here to highlight and to promote the importance of agriculture."

Kevin Lloyd, co-owner of Big Spring Spirits in Bellefonte, knows well the beneficial relationship between agricultural businesses. When he was starting his distillery six years ago, he found Clouser Farm Enterprises to provide him with grains. The relationship, he said, has been "symbiotic," providing him with a critical product for his business from a local source and boosting Clouser's income.

He also noted the success he and similar businesses have seen with collaborative marketing on a smaller scale. The Central PA Tasting Trail is a group of 12 local wine, beer and spirits producers started three years ago to jointly promote their work. 

"To be able to hand people this brochure that lists all of these alcohol producers and really promote our area is really an easy sell, because people can come not just to see me but to see everybody else," Lloyd said. "My experience in the Tasting Trail with just 12 members has been fantastic and has paid great dividends for my company and I think all the members that we have.

"I’m thrilled to participate [in Happy Valley Agventures]… because I think it will pay off business-to-business as well as to bring local and regional tourists to our area."

Jim Ladlee, assistant director of energy, business and community vitality programs for Penn State Extension, said the university is supportive of the campaign because it aligns with its land-grant mission.

"As a key pillar of a land-grant, connecting to community is at the heart of food, ag, and natural resource entrepreneurship just as it is with the university," Ladlee said. "With an entrepreneurial spirit, agritourism is at the cutting edge of ag diversification and the focus on community. Agritourism represents a real opportunity to farm with a community rather than just for a community."

CPCVB receives funding from the county's hotel occupancy tax, which Centre County Commissioners voted earlier this year to increase to help support tourism efforts.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said Happy Valley Agventures is the type of initiative the board was hoping to see when they approved the increase.

"I think this is something the commissioners had in mind when we unanimously voted to increase the hotel tax," Higgins said. "An effort of this quality and this magnitude takes money. It takes organization."

Higgins, who noted that several local marketing companies were involved in creating the campaign, said the initiative "has so many magnifiers involved." Those include giving producers more opportunity to sell direct to consumers and in turn earn more of the retail price than they do selling through third parties. And it opens up more experiences for new and returning visitors to Centre County.

"There are so many places here in Centre County that are so fun to go to but they have no money to market themselves," Higgins said. "This allows a joint marketing effort to cover a dozen, two dozen, three dozen ag-based experiences at the same time."

Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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