June 30, 2010

Organizers of an upcoming agritourism conference in Eastern Kentucky hope to open a new chapter in the region’s entrepreneurial history.

"We want people in Carter, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan and Wolfe counties to think differently about their communities and economy,” said Gwenda Adkins, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Elliott County. “We’re offering free registration to people in those counties to come and learn about making their ideas pay. We’ll emphasize eco-agritourism and related businesses.” 

The conference It’s Your Idea: Make it Pay! is July 28 through July 30 at the Regional Enterprise Center in West Liberty. UK is co-sponsoring the conference with the Eastern Kentucky Foothills Eco-Agri-Tourism Corporation.

“Eastern Kentucky has beautiful natural resources, coupled with a very unique history,” Adkins said. “Those things, combined with fresh entrepreneurial spirit, can make this region a desirable place to live and do business.”

The conference kicks off at 10 a.m. July 28 with a welcome and refreshments, followed by concurrent presentations from Peter Hille and Vaughn Grisham. Hille is the director of Berea College’s Brushy Fork Institute. He believes it’s crucial for leaders to carve a new path forward and not wait for solutions from outside the region. 

“Even as the economic recovery begins to gain momentum, we may be left behind… unless we develop our own plans for progress,” he said. “We need to explore ways to grow the businesses we already have while we generate a climate that supports new enterprises. Food, energy, tourism, health care and a host of other areas are ripe for innovation.”

Grisham worked in the Appalachian area for 40 years and is now director of the Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. He is convinced it takes local people to solve local problems and said he feels a sense of urgency about this because so many rural communities are struggling for survival. He said the people who love the rural places can save them and help build sustainable communities where they can continue to live in harmony with the land. 

From 4 to 8 p.m. July 28, conference participants will tour local farms and businesses including Vertical Acres Farm, a nationally known farm where deer are raised for breeding and research. 

On July 29, the day begins with breakfast at 7:15 a.m., followed by concurrent sessions from Grisham and Todd Comen. 

Comen is the founder and manager of the Institute for Integrated Rural Tourism, an organization that provides development and marketing training to help local people enter the tourism industry in a way that helps preserve the rural way of life. His workshop will teach participants how to build livelihoods from their farms or other land-based resources, including recreation on public and private lands, while practicing good conservation stewardship on those lands. Comen has practiced his own methods by developing a small, full-service country inn on his working farm in Northern California.

“If you’ve ever thought about or dreamed of starting a business, whether it be a restaurant, a catering business, a woodsy retreat, U-pick, bed-and-breakfast just to name a few, this conference is for you,” Adkins said. “Our goal is to create a network of people and businesses working together across county lines.”

For more information or to register, contact Gayle Clevenger at 606-495-7500 or the Elliott County Cooperative Extension Service at 606-738-6400