While there is never a shortage of fun things to do in Kentucky throughout the year, fall remains a special time. The days may be getting shorter, but the list of family-friendly activities keeps getting longer with each passing season.
One area that has seen tremendous growth over the last dozen years is agritourism, which is being officially celebrated this month across the commonwealth. There are now almost 340 farms open for this type of business, according to the Department of Agriculture, and this fall they’re giving local residents and tourists alike a chance to pick their own pumpkins, steer through a corn maze or buy food often grown just a short tractor ride away.
Wineries are becoming much more popular as well, up from four in 2003 to more than 60 now statewide. This is actually a return to an area we once dominated long ago. Kentucky opened the country’s first commercial vineyard in 1798, and until Prohibition we were the third-leading state in grape and wine production.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a new law that is hopefully laying the groundwork for agritourism to grow even more. In short, it provides more liability protection for operators while reminding visitors to be careful when touring a working farm. When Indiana passed a similar law last year, more than 100 new farms applied to begin their own agritourism operations.
Another homegrown program that has taken off in recent years is Kentucky Proud, which the legislature authorized in 2000. There are now about 3,300 Kentucky Proud members, and retail sales – which include everything from apples and zucchinis to candy and Christmas trees – are at $250 million and climbing. This year the Department of Agriculture expanded the brand to include the equine and timber industries, and the state is now working to have Wal-Mart join the list of retailers offering Kentucky Proud products.
The state has worked hard in other ways to get this program where it is today. The Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy has provided nearly $10 million from the state’s portion of the national tobacco settlement, and last year, the General Assembly called on our state parks to promote and use Kentucky-grown products as much as possible.
Farmer’s markets are broadening the reach of locally grown produce as well. According to testimony given in July during the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture, there are nearly 150 of these markets spread across 101 counties. Sales have risen more than a third in just a few years, from $7.6 million in 2008 to $10.4 million in 2011.
For those wanting to know more about what is available around the state, a considerable amount of information can be found online. For agritourism, visit KentuckyFarmsAreFun.com; for a list of festivals, click on KyFestivals.com; and for a list of Kentucky Proud products and vendors, go to KyProud.com.
The Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism and the Kentucky Department of Parks, meanwhile, have been offering a breakdown of peak foliage viewing for more than a quarter-century. With the help of naturalists at our state parks, the website KentuckyTourism.com/seasons can now tell us when the tree colors are just right no matter the region.
Even though fall just officially arrived this past Saturday, time is already drawing short to see all that Kentucky has to offer this season. If you have not already taken part, I encourage you to consider making at least a day out of it or venture further for an overnight trip. There are few better ways to enjoy a day or especially a weekend.