‘On its own two feet’: What a York County agritourism site must produce, and will it?

As York County farms and visitors again celebrate agritourism next month, there’s work ongoing to produce something for a wider audience.

The South Carolina Ag + Art Tour covers 10 counties, including stops in York, Lancaster and Chester counties in June. Meanwhile, decades of work toward bringing a new agritourism site to York County continues.

Adam Shumate and Watts Huckabee lead a citizen group researching a possible agritourism center. The pair recently told York County Council a proposal could be ready in six to eight months.

“It is our intent to come to you with a project that can stand on its own two feet,” Huckabee said. “If we do come back and make a presentation, the need for this will speak for itself. Otherwise, I won’t be coming back.”

The county has had several agritourism study groups dating back three decades. The past couple of years committee members worked with and visited major agritourism event venues in Gaffney, Clemson and across the state line into Tryon, N.C., and Fletcher, N.C.

“These visits were extremely helpful to us because the staffs of these facilities made themselves fully available to us,” Shumate said. “They opened a lot of their business plans to us. They shared with us what was successful, and ultimately what was not successful.”

The agritourism group also met in Columbia with state chamber of commerce, agriculture department, farm bureau, tourism and other officials.

“What we’ve learned from that, we’re putting together to formulate a plan,” Shumate said.

The group hasn’t discussed a specific site. They’ve instead focused on the feasibility of a venue promoting agricultural tourism.

“An agritourism facility is not going to be self-supporting, financially,” Huckabee said. “It’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t happen in any other locations. But the agritourism component is critically important.”

While the facility may cost more money than it generates, the tradeoff comes in the business and development that comes in alongside the agritourism site. Huckabee said his group wants a concept plan and then to meet again with stakeholders, including farmers.

“There are about 70 identified farms in York County,” he said. “But there are actually around 150 to 170 total farms in the county. Hobby farms, people that are farming, they’re just not as big as the ones that you all could name, that we know of.”

The study group also plans to reach out to youth organizations such as Future Farmers of America, 4H, Scouts and the Clemson Extension.

“We feel like for this to be successful, we need to get the youth involved and youth need to understand how significant agritourism and agribusiness is and can be in this county,” Huckabee said.

Two years ago the county hospitality tax committee — then chaired by Huckabee — recommended three main areas where York County could invest to generate significant tourism dollars: Catawba River, Lake Wylie and agritourism. The county approved money for an agritourism study from its hospitality tax, money charged on prepared food and drink and used to promote tourism.

Late last year, the county moved forward on the purchase of 1,900 acres near Rock Hill on the Catawba River. “Project Destiny” could be used, county leaders said, in conjunction with an agritourism center.

“It’s going to have to be self-supporting and self-sustaining,” Huckabee said. “And I think we have a huge opportunity to do that.”

Council Chairman Michael Johnson said that notion critical. Johnson said he has been concerned an agritourism center would suck up hospitality tax dollars. A self-sustaining site is another matter.

“If you get to that point, I am more than willing to support it,” he said.

Want to go?

The agritourism discussion comes as the tri-county area joins in the nation’s largest free, self-guided farm and farmers market tour in the country with local artwork and artisans. The state Ag + Art Tour began in 2012 in York County.

This year is the first with York County taking two weekends. The eastern side of the county will bring in visitors June 1-2. The western side runs June 8-9. Tour stops are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. This year there are 23 farms and farm stands, plus more than 60 artisans from bakers, painters and potters to quilters, artists, musicians and storytellers.

Participants include Baker Farm, Catawba Cultural Center, Catawba Senior Center, Ferebee Farm, Ketchen Place Farm, King’s Landing Farm, Rock Hill Educational Community Garden, Melton Farm and Cat’s Paw Winery in Rock Hill. Fort Mill adds Springs Farm and Tega Hills Farm, while Catawba brings Penny Family Farms.

Western York County includes Black’s Peaches, Bush-N-Vine, The Peach Tree Orchard, Sanders Peaches, Sharon Hill Farm, Starry Night Horse Farm, Tatanka Bison Ranch, Windy Hill Orchard in York. There are Forlines Farms on Ferndale and Historic Brattonsville in McConnells, Curtin Farms in Clover and Myersart and Farm in Hickory Grove.

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