Have you ever spent an hour waiting to get into Local Ocean Seafoods in Newport? Have you left the Manzanita Farmers Market with more goodies than you could possible eat? Have you happily convinced your family to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory for the upteenth time? Then you’re part of the growing swell of people who can’t seem to get enough of the Oregon Coast’s foodie scene.
Everyone must eat, and an increasing number of travelers and locals alike are opting for agritourism experiences over fast-food or more traditional options. Whether it’s eating wood-fired pizza with wild mushrooms, buying freshly caught salmon, or visiting a working farm, this style of tourism is rapidly gaining popularity nationwide.
The Oregon Coast is not unique in its ability to lure food lovers from all over the globe. In 2016, more than 75 percent of American leisure travelers considered a culinary activity to be a motivation for visiting a destination, according to the World Food Travel Association. And in Oregon, more than half (55%) of visitors during 2008-2010 participated in at least one culinary activity, according to Travel Oregon. Recognizing the year-round economic opportunities in culinary and agritourism, especially in regions with agricultural roots, the northern Oregon Coast is coming together across industries to address challenges and pave the way for growth.
“There is extensive buy-in and enthusiasm for agritourism throughout the county,” says Nan Devlin, director of tourism, Visit Tillamook Coast. “We’re fortunate in that we have a strong farming and fishing industry already in place, a top-name cheese brand and visitor destination that drives strong tourism activity in Tillamook County. We have four active farmers markets, restaurants throughout the county adopting local food menus, two highly respected breweries, and entrepreneurs looking to brand local products, create tours, and more.”
Over the winter and spring, Visit Tillamook Coast and Travel Oregon hosted a Culinary and Agritourism Studio workshop aimed at helping businesses, farmers market managers, county health organizations, OSU Extension, and other organizations understand some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in the agritourism and culinary industries.
By combining agriculture and tourism, businesses can tap into new sources of revenue. But agritourism also presents potential land-use restrictions and liability issues—both of which are a main concern to farmers interested in adding a visitor experience component to their properties, according to Devlin. The National Agricultural Law Center is a good resource for general questions about liability issues that often go with agritourism. No matter where you live, navigating state and local land-use laws can be overwhelming and result in delays if you’re not prepared.
Some key takeaways from a panel on land use at Tillamook’s Culinary and Agritourism Studio included:
- Meet with a land-use planner early during the concept stage—before you’ve gotten your financing and investors. Bring a general concept of what you are hoping to create.
- If you don’t own the land, involve the county planning staff before purchasing a property for a specific purpose.
- If you own a farm and want to host tours or events, you will most likely have to apply for a temporary use permit (one-off application, one every three months). It takes at least one month to process applications.
Devlin points to a couple of shining examples of producer-to-chef partnerships in Tillamook County. “Tom Flood of the Schooner Restaurant & Lounge on Netarts Bay works diligently with oyster farmers, fishers, beef ranchers, produce growers, local breweries, and other culinary/agritourism companies to create a delicious local-based menu. And Jeff Wong of Consumer Supported Fishery brings fresh seafood directly to chefs within hours of catch. He not only provides seafood to local restaurants, such as The Schooner, Blackbird (Manzanita) and Offshore Grill (Rockaway Beach), but also Portland chefs and restaurants.”
In Tillamook County, agricultural businesses can tap into Partners for Rural Innovation, a partnership with Tillamook Bay Community College, OSU Extension, Visit Tillamook Coast, and the Small Business Development Center, for help with business planning, marketing and other needs. “This is very unique to Tillamook County,” Devlin says, “but other communities can learn from what we discover, especially about distribution.”
Marcus Hinz, executive director, Oregon Coast Visitors Association, agrees. “Agritourism is a core component of the 2017-2019 RCTP Coast Plan. We know that visitors enjoy having the option to explore multiple places during their trip to the Coast. The experiences being developed in Tillamook County and the North Coast can be exported to other regions.:
- To learn more about Tillamook’s Agritourism Rural Tourism Studio, go here to view the presentation and notes.
- To apply to host a Agritourism Rural Tourism Studio in your community, go here.
- To learn about Travel Oregon’s Agritourism Network, go here.