Owasso farm owner Bill Jacobs didn't mind sharing his method. As a dozen other farmers stood around him, he demonstrated the trellis system that has made his blackberry business boom.
“I wish I'd have had it years ago,” Jacobs told the group. “I'd be a lot less tired and I'd have a lot more money in my bank account.”
On the other side of the trellis wires, Scott Dallas listened closely. Dallas is set to retire as an Oklahoma City fire investigator in a year and a half, and he's ready to expand his Christmas tree farm and pumpkin patch to a year-round venture by growing blackberries.
With that in mind, he set off June 28 on a daylong bus tour with about 30 other people to visit four tourist-oriented farms in northeast Oklahoma.
The tour, organized by Oklahoma Agritourism, was designed to teach farmers and ranchers how inviting the public to their farms can bring in extra income. The ultimate goal is economic development in rural areas, said Jamie Cummings, program administrator.
The group learned about tax codes, insurance and marketing — but also had fun tasting blueberries in Broken Arrow, peach fried pies in Porter and chardonel wine in Haskell.
Above all, the day was about networking: Shepherds ate lunch with aspiring petting zoo owners. Produce-growers exchanged tips for squashing squash bugs. Successful producers shared their failures, and no one hesitated to give a fellow farmer a helping hand.
Oklahoma Agritourism aims to help farmers and ranchers develop businesses that blend agriculture and tourism. The program is built on the idea that many Oklahomans, generations removed from any farm, would pay to get away from the daily grind and spend time outdoors.
To that end, the program helps farms add and market attractions like corn mazes, horseback riding and berry-picking.
The program is a joint effort of the state departments of agriculture and tourism and started five years ago with about 200 venues. It now promotes about 500 venues, including farms, ranches, country stays and wineries, Cummings said.
Bus tours, or “rolling workshops,” happen twice a year, covering a different part of the state each time, she said.
The group aboard the charter bus June 28 had the chance to be both farmers and tourists for the day, stopping first at Thunderbird Berry Farm in Broken Arrow. There, they met farm owner Don Hansen, who told them his basic business plan.
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Oklahoma Agritourism hosts bus tours twice a year. Registration is open to the public. For more information, go to www.oklahomaagritourism.com or contact Becca Lasich at 488-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.