Niagara Gazette


September 20, 2006

Helping farms pitch fun

New state law boosts agricultural tourism

Becker Farms appears to be a thriving place.

For 26 years, the Hartland farm has attracted school groups and others who want to pick apples and pumpkins and spend time in the country. Its operations have grown and for the last two years the farm’s owners have been able to cultivate a different clientele with their winery, Vizcarra Vineyards.

New York State is hoping to cultivate more places like Becker Farms.

The governor signed a bill in August that defines agricultural tourism and gives it protections afforded to other farms by adding the activity to the state’s agriculture and markets law.

“Diversifying farm operations with a tourism component has proven profitable for many farmers in New York and other states,” said state Sen. George Winner Jr., who leads the state’s Legislative Commission on Rural Resources and sponsored the legislation. “It helps them keep their land in farming and heightens the public’s awareness of agriculture’s importance.”

With tough competition from growers around the country and around the world, agricultural tourism is a way for farmers to sell directly to consumers and market other farm products, such as jams, pies and wines. In New York, farming is a $3.6 billion industry. The state can claim 36,000 farms, which sits on 25 percent of the state’s land area.

“The state is really trying to help us out,” said Margo Sue Bittner, owner of the winery at Marjim Manor in Appleton.

The winery employs one full-time and six part-time workers.

New signs marking the Niagara Wine Trail have increased attendance at the county’s wineries, but the businesses would like the state Department of Transportation to install signs along the New York State Thruway.

And the potential for growth is there.

Bittner has maps of the United States and the world hanging on her wall, where visitors can mark their hometown. In the two years the winery has been open, it has hosted visitors from all 50 states and every continent except Antarctica.

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