5/4/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
The 1000 Islands International Tourism Council helps agricultural businesses in the area live up to the adage, “There’s strength in numbers.”
Four years ago, the council helped a couple dozen farm operators and ag-related organizations coordinate a self-guided, audio agricultural tour that visitors can call to hear all about the wineries, farm markets and farms in the Thousand Islands region, which stretches north from Lake Ontario along the St. Lawrence River.
Signs posted at each business inform tourists of the tour phone number (315-221-5104) and the farm’s corresponding code, which lets visitors access a pre-recorded message.
Tillie Youngs, representing the tourism council, said the tour has boomed because “people are looking to buy local.”
“We wanted to integrate our local farm stands into a tourist’s day trip,” she said.
Each farm’s representative completed a questionnaire, and the tourism council helped write, edit and record the scripts.
“They are asked to update the scripts throughout the year to keep it seasonal,” Youngs said. “Some are better at updating than others. Farming is a busy life.”
The tour has spurred its members to host semi-annual open houses in early summer and autumn with expanded hours of operation and special events at each venue.
“I think the networking and learning what worked for one farm and what might work for another has been a huge benefit,” Youngs said. “Even beyond when we get them together, they’re sharing phone numbers and tips.”
Karen Stumpf, who co-owns Thousand Islands Goat Farm with her husband, Willard “Bill” Stumpf, agrees that networking has helped their business “probably more than anything else,” she said. “It brings recognition to what’s available in the Thousand Islands area. Most of the people who come in hear about us through other goat farmers. We’re in the middle of nowhere!”
She also likes the camaraderie shared with other goat farmers on the tour, since they can call each other for solutions to problems related to the area and the industry.
Patty Forbes, owner of Milk Made Farms in Evans Mills, said she thinks anything that promotes agricultural education in the area is a good thing.
“There are many people who are disconnected to where their food comes from,” she said. “The more people who realize where their food comes from helps small farms stay viable.”
She recalled farm visitors stating with straight faces that they thought brown milk came from brown-colored cows. Others said they could not eat “farm eggs” but only “store eggs.”
“If we get too far away from knowing how food is grown as a society, we will have more laws regulating how we small farms operate,” Forbes said.
So far, her listing on the tour has boosted tourism. She prefers people call ahead before visits because some visitors may not want to witness normal farm activity, such as animal birthing or butchering. The only drawback Forbes has pondered is the risk of animal rights activists using the tour as a means of harassment.
“Now that we’re open to the public, we’re a little nervous that someone who’s a little loony might come and let the animals loose at night or something,” she said.
But on the other hand, she has had many positive responses, such as a tourist begging her to turn the working farm into a farm petting zoo. With her large menagerie, it should be no surprise. On their 60 acres, Forbes and her husband, Mark, raise 79 dairy goats, 16 sheep, 100-plus chickens, ducks and turkeys, 12 meat rabbits, four horses, two donkeys, five great Pyrenees, 12 meat goats and 13 registered Jerseys.
They sell meat live animals, eggs, vegetables, herbs, and their own bath products, including bath salts, milk baths, lip balm, soap and lotion from the farm.
Dani Baker and her partner, David Belding, appreciate the attention that the tour brings to their spread, Cross Island Farms, especially since they like educating the public about organic growing practices.
“We offer formal tours which we charge for,” Baker said.
On their 102 acres, they raise 253 kinds of vegetables for retail and wholesale sales and operate a small community supported agriculture operation. The duo also raise rare and heritage breeds of goats, hogs and beef and sell eggs.
“Some people realize we exist because we’re in the (tourism council) brochure and on the website,” Baker said. “I always refer to other farmers if I can’t help someone, and I know they do the same.”
The stops and their corresponding numbers on the audio tour include: Almedan Produce (13), Behling’s (10), Beartown Farms (14), Belleview Farms (84), Best By Farr (15), Better Farm (50), Broken Spur Ranch (11), Burrville Cider Mill (12), Cape Winery (23), Cornell Cooperative Extension (24), Country Belle Farms (25), Coyote Moon Vineyards (21), Cross Island Farms (22), Crowley Foods (26), Forrester Farms (83), Garden Hill Farm (32), Gold Cup Farms (33), Great Lakes Cheese (34), Hi Hope Farms (31), Holmdale Farms (43), Home Again Farm (41).
Also, The Cheese Store (44) Jefferson County Ag Development Corp. (45), Jefferson County Fairgrounds (42), Little m Farms (51), Milk Made Farms (63), Murrock Farms (65), North Branch Farms (64), Northern New York Agricultural Historical Society at Stone Mills (60), Old McDonald’s Farm (61), Otter Creek Winery (62), Reed Haven Farms (40), Rhodes Greenhouses (70), Seaway Cold Hardy Grapes and Vineyard (80), Sheland Farms (71), Thousand Islands Goat Farm (82), Thousand Islands Winery (81), Two Chicks Farm Alpacas (85), Venditti Vineyards (27), Windswept Meadows Farm (90), Wyn-De-Elms Farm (93), Yellow Barn Winery (91) and Zenda Farm Historic Preserve (92).