The rural countryside of Webster County and the surrounding area offers a perfect opportunity for participating in a rising national trend: agritourism.
Ozarks South Central Tourism, a nonprofit agency based in Mansfield, is ready to help local farmers and their communities grab hold of that opportunity. On Sept. 14, the organization offered its first-ever Amazing Grazing Farm Tasting Tour at seven sites throughout Webster and Wright County. Included were five farms and two restaurants.
The event kicked off at the Little Farm Store, 520 Lucky Road, Seymour — a hidden gem of a breakfast site, where participants were served muffins to start their day.
From there, participants could go to any of the sites, including Mean Green’s Farm and Sorghum Maze, 1501 State Highway AB, Seymour; Pleasant Valley Farm, 1224 Pleasant Valley Road, Mansfield; Rosewood Farms Country Gifts, 7345 Missouri 5, Hartville; Wild Hollow Ranch, 3239 Liberty Road, Rogersville; and Wild Hollow Ranch Restaurant, 298 Burks St., Fordland.
Linnea Iantria, vice president and treasurer of Ozarks South Central Tourism, greeted tasters at the Little Farm Store, and after handling morning check-ins and on-site registrations, she was amazed at the response.
“We had sold about 60 tickets online, but we have had quite a few people just decide to come now and pay cash. We know that we had over 100 people,” she said.
She noted that for many it was a last-minute decision because of weather — "And it’s a gorgeous day!" she said.
The turnout was gratifying for Iantria, who believes in the mission of her group.
"Our goal is really to encourage and develop rural tourism," she said. “We want to get people out of the city and into the country."
It’s a model for economic development that uses what is already here and presents it as an opportunity for tourists to spend their dollars in rural areas, where they can experience farm life and develop an understanding of where their food comes from.
"I don’t think a lot of times people realize tourism is economic development," Iantria said.
Kieve Garner, executive director of Ozarks South Central Tourism, noted that the event was for everyone who truly loves good food, locally grown ingredients and learning how those ingredients are sourced.
Leading up to the event, Garner noted, "The goal of this farm tour will be to showcase and support the heart of south-central Missouri's agricultural region and to draw people in to discover the locale at large. We are working hard to draw guests from miles around, up to a three-hour radius, to explore this region and boost the economic vitality of the area."
Therrin Dickinson, owner of Mean Green’s Farm and Sorghum Maze, was very pleased with the number of visitors who visited her farm — and their enthusiasm.
"Most people are raised in the city, and they are not aware of where their food comes from or how it got to their market," she said. "We're getting kids in touch with where their foods come from. The more we teach the youngest people how to farm, the better."