An indicator of integrated tourism is its ability to enhance local development by creating new partnerships that connect previously disparate activities and resources (Jenkins and Oliver, 2001). Examples of these activities abound in WNC, such as the hyper local restaurant or bar that grows its own food, herbs or other key ingredients. Rural and urban breweries send spent grains to local farms to produce meat consumed in brewpub restaurants. Farms grow key ingredients such as hops, fruit and herbs for inclusion in local brews. Some farms also vertically integrate their operations by processing their bounty into salsas, jams and char- cuterie, facilitated by Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a commercial kitchen for budding food entrepreneurs. Market diversification is also occurring among food entrepreneurs. Riverbend Malt House produces malts from North Carolina-produced grains that are frequently used in craft beers. Over time, its malt has also been incorporated into artisan chocolates and other local food products sought after by visitors. The diverse and dynamic manners in which the rural and urban experiences are connected suggest both expanding and maturing networks.
Yet there are efforts underway that suggest even greater maturation of farm and food tourism. Sponsors of farm tours in WNC are currently networking to better coordinate their activities (K. Descieux, Local Food Research Center at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, personal communication, 17 July 2015), which will help visitors to better identify and differentiate the agricultural enterprises highlighted on the fee-based, drop-in style tours that serve as fundraisers for local non-profits.
There are also opportunities for new or expanded themed ‘trails’ that could draw new visitor segments to the area and encourage existing visitors to extend their stays or visit new attractions. One potential trail would make visible the historic link between the area’s mountainous topography, moonshine production and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) heritage, as described in Pierce (2013). Given the popularity of outdoor recreation among visitors and residents alike, recreation activities on food and farms could easily be expanded, such as the Cycle to Farm tour or al fresco meals paired with farm hikes. Building on existing wild edible hikes, another trail could link activities and attractions that highlight herbs, the region’s genetic biodiversity and other natural products. Most visitors who experience a WNC winery do so at the Biltmore Estate, home to the most visited winery in the country (Biltmore, 2013), but there are 47 other WNC wineries to be discovered. The first guided wine tours in the region began in 2015 (Kiss, 2015), which will help connect visitors to Asheville with wineries in the surrounding area, and additional development of local wine tourism infrastructure is sure to follow. Finally, the region’s history of apple production means that the area currently supports nine of the state’s 16 cideries and meaderies (NC Beer Guys, 2016). This points to additional opportunities to yoke rural and urban visitor experiences.
It thus appears that WNC provides a model of the integrated tourism described by Oliver and Jenkins (2005). The farm and food tourism links the economic, social, cultural, natural and human elements of the region in an expansive and embedded network of activities that are economically viable, socially important and culturally relevant. The use of both land (soils, plants) and landscape (scenic quality) as inputs into the products enjoyed by food and farm tourists serves as a model for place-based activities that are embedded in and with a region’s natural amenities. The growth of new farm and food enterprises, as well as the increased numbers of participants in them, demonstrates the manner in which the industry has achieved a meaningful scale.