EXTENSION FARM TOURS INTRODUCE PUBLIC, POLICY MAKERS, TO LOCAL AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY Moffis*, B.1, Mann*, M.1, Wilchcombe, M.1, Popenoe, J.1, Daniels, D. 1
1. Extension Agents, Florida Cooperative Extension, Lake County, Tavares, FL 32757
Lake County, Florida is experiencing a period of substantial growth with development booming at both ends of the county. The urbanization of traditionally agricultural land can lead to conflict as new residents, unfamiliar with agricultural practices, move next-door to farms and ranches. Fostering an awareness of, and appreciation for, agriculture in local communities is an essential element of reducing stresses commonly associated with rural-urban interface. Likewise, it is critical that those responsible for creating and enforcing regulations understand agricultural practices as well as the impact that agriculture has on the local economy. Since 2009, UF/IFAS Lake County Extension agents have collaborated to plan, implement, and evaluate annual Farm Tours that expose members of the public, as well as local policy makers, to a variety of local agricultural businesses. A total of 849 individuals, and 14 policy makers, have participated in the UF/IFAS Lake County farm tour since it’s inception. Post tour surveys found that 94% reported having a deeper understanding of common agricultural practices as a result of their participation. Additionally, 88% reported being more aware of the services offered by Extension and 55% indicated an intention to avail themselves of those services. Featured agritourism-oriented farms have reported positive follow-up interactions with tour participants who have frequently returned with additional guests.