Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 10-16-05
Jeff Gill

Get Used To Agrotourism

Agrotourism is one of those fancy words that can slip into everyday conversation before you know it.
Maybe you haven’t used it yet, but I have a feeling Licking County will get used to it before long.
Tourism that looks at agriculture has quite a pedigree here. Lynd’s Fruit Farm has been hosting tours and greeting school groups in the fall for many years. I enjoyed being a chaperone with the Little Guy’s class last year, seeing the cider presses and selection conveyors and all the rows of trees narrowing together along the horizon. Other orchards have found that a tour, a chance to pick a bag o’ apples, and a cup of cider can, at a modest admission fee, help to cover the steadily rising costs of being in the agriculture business without being in the corporate orbit.
This summer we went back to visit my old hometown in northwest Indiana, and my folks said "Let’s go to Fair Oaks Dairy." OK, we said, since they sounded like they had enjoyed a recent visit to . . . whatever it was.
After a drive down into prairie country south of the Kankakee River, we started to see large clusters of huge new barns dotting the expansive landscape. Soon we saw signs that made it clear we were already in "Fair Oaks" territory.
What this operation is, a hundred miles south of Chicago and less than two hundred north of Indianapolis, is a giant milk cow operation, with tens of thousands of cows (bulls? Don’t need ‘em when you have syringes and a schedule) regularly climbing onto a vast 72 stall circular carousel.
The turntable was where they got milked, all under our gaze from a disease-controlled gallery only accessible from the bus bay, where we had heard a rolling tour from an area farmer who moonlighted (as so many farmers do all over) as a driver-guide, answering questions and steering us through the buildings and along the roads.
What’s so amazing here is that, on modest reflection, the inquiring mind realizes that a large business, wanting into a good market (Chicago-Indy) near a good range of forage crops and a near endless supply of sand for bedding (think Great Lakes shoreline), saw that their arrival could make for problems. Lots of acres (thousands) and lots of manure (tons) makes for a bigfoot presence in a small farming area. How do we show that we’re god neighbors and help folks see what we’re doing in a positive light?
This is America: the answer is charge admission. Oh, and put in a gift shop (lots of cheese) and a café (mostly ice cream and cheese sandwiches) with a museum only a PR staff could love, but skillfully done. My hat is off to them, and you can check them out along I-65 on the way to Chicago if you want, Buy the Colby and bring me a brick, too.
Have you been to Devine Farms or Pigeon Roost Farm for a pumpkin and a day o’ fun? Agrotourism. Stopped at a corn maze or haunted trail around central Ohio? Also agrotourism of a sort, if we’re talking about a farmer paying some of his bills by adding value to a farm visit with a few stray ghouls and sudden chain saw behind the crowd.
Even the amazing ancient history of the Newark Earthworks can participate. Here’s another fun word: paleoethnobotany. Those who study ancient plant utilization in archaeological settings, or paleoethnobotanists, have shown that this area was one of only a handful of places around the world (six, maybe eight tops) where agriculture began independently.
The selection and cultivation of specific seeds to increase yield and ensure nutrition and storage quality is what makes for beginning agriculture. The odd seed crops along with better known local plants like sunflower and squash are a unique gift of the folks who also left us the Octagon Earthworks, which we’ll celebrate next weekend on Saturday at OSU-N. We see the vast geometric shapes on the land that are left, but their microscopic heritage is no less worth of honor, and someone’s museum display or presentation.
More agrotourism.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is but an indifferent gardener, sadly. Tell of your sunflowers, squash, and other local produce at disciple@voyager.net, or see what’s happening at Newark Earthworks Day at www.octagonmoonrise.org.

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