The Power of Storytelling for Agritourism Farms & Destinations

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Earlier this week, a workshop on storytelling was held as part of the EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems (EMFS) program engaging agritourism farmers and destination leaders. EMFS is a three-year project funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission focused on seven counties of Western NC (Jackson, Macon, Haywood, Swain, Cherokee, Clay, Graham) through a partnership between the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Cooperative Extension. The project’s overall goals are to expand opportunities and capacity to food and farm businesses across the southwestern NC region through several priority areas.

Dr. Carla Barbieri leads a workshop with agritourism farmers working with them to develop their own unique story.

Dr. Carla Barbieri preparing agritourism farmers to begin developing their stories.

The workshop was developed from an agritourism-focused research initiative on the project led by NC State Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management faculty Dr. Whitney Knollenberg and Dr. Carla Barbieri, Tourism Extension Specialist. Through interviews and focus groups with tourism destination and community leaders as well as farmers and agritourism providers, an apparent opportunity to connect the storytelling that is engrained in agritourism operations as a means to grow customer bases for both agritourism operations and destinations in the area. This workshop brought together agritourism farmers with community and tourism professionals with the end goal of utilizing each’s unique tools to work toward shared goals of growing visitation to their areas.

The morning kicked off with concurrent sessions with agritourism farmers refining their own unique story that exemplifies elements of their farm. Simultaneously, destination and community leaders identified their goals and opportunities for the stories of these agritourism farms to support them in achieving these goals. In these concurrent sessions, representatives from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project presented their resources for farmers and communities, including their fantastic storytelling worksheet and guide.

A group of 5 masked attendees sit together and discuss agritourism stories and destination opportunities.

Attendees come together to discuss their agritourism stories and destinations opportunities.

After lunch, everyone came together by region to discuss the farmers’ stories, the destination, and community leaders’ goals and define actionable next steps to support each other beyond the workshop. Upon deciding each attendee’s next task, everyone traveled to KT’s Orchard & Apiary to see the on-farm storytelling in action. It is safe to say that attendees left inspired by this final speaker and energized by their new contacts and expanded network made at the workshop.

A farmer addresses a group of visitors with a backdrop of an apple orchard, blue skies and a small building. The farmer is discussing her farm's origin story and since development.

KT’s Orchard owner and operator shares the story of her farm.

Tentatively in December, there will be another similar workshop in another part of the SW region of the state to reach additional agritourism farmers and destination and community leaders. Visit the EMFS website to learn more about the entire project and the upcoming workshops. The workshop team included EMFS, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Tourism Extension Associate, Ann Savage, and Dr. Whitney Knollenberg, and Dr. Carla Barbieri, Tourism Extension Specialist.