The Georgia General Assembly officially began the program in 2009, but after a slow start the program was sidelined and remained unstaffed until last year. Now, Agritourism Manager Cindy Norton oversees the sign program that identifies and promotes Georgia’s agritourism destinations.
“Statewide, about 75 businesses have the signs and about 15 are about to go up in the next few months,” Norton said. “Pettit Creek has about six signs and they are the only place in Bartow County that has them.
“Pettit Creek has been around a long time, they have a lot of billboards, they have a lot of other forms of advertising, but a lot of the farms that [participate] are smaller. There is a fee for it, so sometimes it’s cost prohibitive for really small farms. ... There are certain guidelines they have to meet. They have to have a website to talk about their farm, they have to be open to the public — they can have set hours to the public, but they have to be willing to take tours and groups in. They can be you-pick-it, they can be a children’s educational group, petting zoos, it can be farm markets on the farm with tours. So there’s a wide range of venues it can be as long as it is agriculturally related. They have to have public access, they have to have parking, they have to have restrooms — pretty basic stuff.”
The sign program finds businesses across the state that aim to give guests an up-close look at how agricultural enterprises operate, including wineries, pick-your-own produce farms, pumpkin patches and corn mazes. Participating sites then pay for signs that are approved and erected by the Georgia Department of Transportation along roads leading to the farm.
“We were approached by [Norton] ... and she said she was promoting agritourism and we are definitely agritourism,” said Pettit Creek Farms co-owner June Allen. “We are a real-life working farm and she said, ‘Hey, you guys are a great candidate to have these signs.’
“She saw firsthand what goes on here at one of our peak times. So she rode around with my husband and took a hay ride and was surrounded by children. She saw exactly what we did and thought we were absolutely perfect. If you saw agritourism in a dictionary, Pettit Creek Farms would be right under the description. So she was happy with what she saw.”
After first meeting with Norton about the program last fall during pumpkin season, Pettit Creek Farms put in their order and the first signs went up earlier this year. Since being in place for several months, the green DOT signs — which read “Georgia Agritourism, Pettit Creek Farms” accompanied by a directional arrow — have not led to noticeable changes for the local farm, but the Allens look forward to seeing the impact in the peak seasons for pumpkin harvest and Christmas light tours.
Often utilized by smaller, rural farms, the signs have proven successful in bringing traffic from highways, interstates and surface streets to dirt road farms in south Georgia and other remote areas of the state. Whether agriculture related tourism destinations are located in rural Georgia or metro-Atlanta counties, the Georgia Department of Agriculture is looking to help small businesses across the state introduce visitors to Georgia’s largest industry.
“I do most of the private family farm tours and one of the things I highlight is to show people, especially younger kids, that eggs actually come out of chickens and this is a concept that is sometimes brand new,” Allen said. “Sometimes, kids don’t understand that the farm is where food in the grocery store comes from, whether it be wheat that makes bread or corn that makes countless things.
“To see an actual working farm and to put two and two together, that’s what agritourism is all about.”
Pettit Creek Farms is located at 337 Cassville Road. For more information, call 770-386-8688 or visit www.pettitcreekfarms.com.
To learn more about the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s agritourism sign program, email norton at firstname.lastname@example.org.