What does the case of WNC teach us about how farm and food tourism develops linkages between rural and urban lands, peoples and places? Several key elements emerge.
First, multi-directional and multi-modal connections between rural and urban markets are essential for both the flow of goods and people. Baskerville (2013) identified urban influence as a key factor in determining an area’s potential for agritourism and the case of WNC demonstrates significant historical and contemporary urban influences. Proximity to urban markets is essential for farmers wishing to command premium prices for products and sufficient revenue to ensure a healthy return on investments in agritourism infrastructure. And of course, the local produce featured in restaurants will taste much better if it is harvested soon before it appears on one’s plate. Urban tourists drawn to rural sites and rural residents to urban sites demonstrate additional threads in the cobweb of rural-urban linkages.
A second element that appears central to the success of WNC’s farm and food tourism is that the sector’s local champions come from many different locations and represent diverse interests. Producer groups, non-profits, government agencies, and travel and tourism professionals representing both rural and urban constituencies all play a role in successful planning and implementation of tourism infrastructure, thus effectively demonstrating Oliver and Jenkins’ (2003) network, embeddedness and empowerment characteristics.
The region’s success also appears to be due to the fact that the tourism community is dynamic and innovative while staying true to its roots. It has capitalized on current trends including the local food movement, the popularity of craft beverages, the quest for authentic and experiential activities, and a desire to connect across generations and with history. Residents seek to educate visitors about the heritage they are interested in protecting, demonstrating that even significant threats to farm viability can be leveraged as opportunities.