West Virginia farmers engaged in or considering alternative sources of income are invited to attend a regional agri tourism workshop from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, at the Grand Central Business Center Conference Room in Keyser.

Agri tourism includes alternative ways that farm families can make revenue from their land, such as farm tours, pick your own or direct to visitor markets, and entertainment such as corn mazes. Agri tourism can help bring the customer to the producer, and can help many farm families make the difference in maintaining a profitable business.

A growing national trend is for urban and suburban residents to explore rural areas and buy rural products and experiences,according to Scott Gerloff, CEO of the Potomac Heritage Partnership, a regional non profit specializing in cultural heritage tourism.West Virginia farmers and small businesses are perfectly situated to take advantage of this opportunity.

The workshop, sponsored in part by the West Virginia University Community Design Team, is designed for participants who are currently engaged in this form of tourism or for those who are considering the possibilities. Attendees will learn about the potential of agri tourism by looking at examples of successful efforts, national and regional trends and hearing about state and national programs that can assist in these efforts. The workshop will also present the pragmatic pros and cons of operating such businesses from customer service to managing risks and liabilities.

Speakers include Gerloff; James A. Maetzold of National Alternative Enterprises and Agritourism Leader USDA ; Andre Nabors of West Virginia Division of Tourism; Cindy Martel and Kelli Boles of West Virginia Department of Agriculture; Kim Donahue of Small Business Work Force; and farmers/small businesses currently engaged in agri tourism. Also participating will be representatives from West Virginia USDA Rural Development State Office.

Workshops are made possible by a grant from the Small Business Work Force, which underwrites training for small businesses.

Sponsors are West Virginia Development Office, Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Tourism, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Small Business Development Centers, Small Business Work Force, and the Potomac Heritage Partnership. In addition to these, the workshop will benefit from local sponsors.

The West Virginia Cultural Heritage Tourism Programs mission is to use the states historic, cultural and natural resources to establish sustainable heritage tourism programs for the purposes of stimulating economic opportunities and preserving and conserving these resources. The West Virginia Development Office and the Preservation Alliance are the lead organizations in the program with a 27 person Steering Committee providing guidance.

The Community Design Team (CDT), a group of WVU volunteers from a range of disciplines, meets with community representatives, helps assess a towns strengths and needs, and develops a set of designs that reflect the issues articulated by the community. Created as a part of WVU Extensions Center for Community, Economic and Workforce Development and housed in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences, the CDT has visited close to 20 West Virginia communities in the past three years.

For questions or to register, call Carrie Williams at 1 800 982 3386, ext. 711 or email cwilliams@wvdo.org . Cost is $15; checks should be made out to Preservation Alliance West Virginia and sent to Carrie Williams, Main Street West Virginia, WV Development Office, Capitol Complex, Building 6/553, Charleston, WV 25305 .