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Farm loops aim to lure ‘agritourism’ dollars

The Eastern Oregon Visitors Association is developing two new farm loops in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
George Plaven

East Oregonian

Published on February 15, 2017 12:01AM

Last changed on February 15, 2017 10:06PM

EO file photo
Hermiston watermelons are one of the many agriculture products that would be featured in one of two new farm loops in Umatilla and Morrow counties. The loops are being developed by the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association in en effort to boost agritourism in the region.

EO file photo Hermiston watermelons are one of the many agriculture products that would be featured in one of two new farm loops in Umatilla and Morrow counties. The loops are being developed by the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association in en effort to boost agritourism in the region.

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Two new farm loops are in the works for Umatilla and Morrow counties, featuring everything from local wine and cheese to handmade saddles and antique tractors.

Designed as self-guided driving tours, one loop will run between Pendleton and Milton-Freewater while the other will encompass Hermiston, Boardman, Irrigon, Echo and Heppner.

Janet Dodson, project leader and consultant with the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association, said a full list of businesses should be finalized before the summer tourism season begins. The idea, she said, is to attract tourists by promoting the region’s diverse farming and ranching activities — a concept known as “agritourism.”

“This is a huge growth area in tourism across the country,” Dodson said. “It’s a good way to draw attention to the variety of things we have in our area.”

Agritourism can include visits to working farms and ranches, U-pick fields, wineries, breweries and farmers markets. Dodson said more people are interested in knowing where their food comes from, which has opened the door for farms to share their stories and potentially generate a new source of revenue.

“Now is a great time for farms and ranches, orchards, gardens and other producers of all sizes to explore the opportunities for inviting visitors to buy products directly and to learn about and experience the rural and agricultural lifestyle,” she said.

Dodson began consulting last year with a local committee dedicated to growing agritourism in “Oregon’s Rugged Country.” Kalie Davis, who manages the SAGE Center in Boardman, chairs the working group and said they are still reaching out to businesses that may be interested in joining one of the farm loops.

Once the list is finalized, Davis said they will compile maps and brochures for visitors, which will be available on the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association and Travel Oregon websites. The farm loops will highlight places that people might not know about, Davis added.

“There’s these little hidden gems that people don’t even know exist,” she said.

Whiskey & Rocks is the name of the loop from Pendleton to Milton-Freewater, drawing on the popularity of Pendleton Whisky and the emergence of the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater American Viticultural Area. Not surprisingly, the tour is set to feature a number of orchards and vineyards, along with stops unique to Pendleton’s cowboy culture.

Clive Kaiser, who works as an extension horticulturist for Oregon State University in Milton-Freewater, said the community had previously been planning its own farm loop — identifying 67 possible attractions — before it was absorbed by the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association as part of a single regional effort.

“They asked us if we would put our efforts on hold, because they wanted to have a familiar theme throughout Oregon and they wanted us to be part of it,” Kaiser said.

When envisioning an agritourism experience for Milton-Freewater, Kaiser said he was reminded of the Midlands Meander in South Africa, which beckons tourists through a range of arts, crafts, outdoor activities and country settings.

“That’s what I was effectively looking to recreate in this region,” he said.

A second farm loop, dubbed River to Hills, is also being developed for western Umatilla County and Morrow County. Davis said the loop will include things like Hermiston watermelons, Echo wine, tours of family farms and a stop at the SAGE Center interactive agricultural museum.

Dodson said they hope to have both loops completed by the end of May.

“Obviously, agriculture is a huge part of our economy and lifestyle,” Dodson said. “(Agritourism) fits well within Eastern Oregon.”

Anyone wanting to learn more about the project can contact Dodson at 541-786-8006

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.



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