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Serving: IN

Interest in Agri-Tourism Grows

More mid and small-sized farms looking to add dollars.

Success of visible farms trying agri-tourism, including Kelsay and Sons Dairy, located along I-65 near Whiteland in Johnson County is driving others to consider various agri-tourism possibilities as well. Only the craze is spreading farther out from large urban centers, to the edge of more traditional, county-seat towns.

At least two farmers in Shelby County are considering moving deeper into some form of agri-tourism soon. Both will be part of the Farm Festival tour in Shelby County on the first Sunday in September this fall. This rotating program brings people to the country from suburbs and cities for a look at what farm life is like. The event was held in Johnson County in September of '07. Around since the early '80s, it once was a rotating event around all the doughnut counties surrounding Indianapolis. Counties in other parts of the state also held such events. Some counties, including some of the doughnut counties no longer continue the event, but others, like Johnson and Shelby, still host the event every few years.

What most people who want to try agri-tourism seek first is an attraction that wild raw school groups or other youth groups. That simplifies business planning because they can work with groups by appointment, rather than opening their farm up tot eh general public over set periods of hours. The Kelsays do both as part of their agri-tourism package,. They also hold camps on the farm in the summer for kids. And they host tour groups from around the country during the National FFA Convention in late October each year.

Those who have tried agro-tourism and succeeded tend to agree you may not get rich, but it's good extra income if you run it properly, and can be an outlet for a wife or relative who is crafty. At least one of the Shelby County farms intends to include a gift shop, offering season, 'country' items made from gourds, pumpkins and much more.

The attraction to spend a day in the country tends to bring out young families. The Kelsays included a corn maze as an added attraction, and also purchased a used milkshake machine so they could sell shakes on the farm. They hire local high school students with a knowledge of agriculture to help man the milkshake booth and do other crow control duties during the fall weekends when they open the gates to families. Their tour also included a trip into the millhouse to watch cows milked through a glass window. That was a popular draw this past fall, creating a line of people waiting to see where milk actually comes from.

Advertising can be a key to making agri-tourism work, experts say. The Kelsays take advantage of any free advertising vehicle they can find, and also maintain a Website. Amy Kelsay, who heads up many of the agri-tourism activities on the farm,. Says the Web site has been invaluable in getting the word out to would be visitors. It's also a time saver because it allows her to post information about tours, including times and prices in advance, heading off many questions that otherwise might require a phone call or two to answer.

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