Food and Tourism Entrepreneurs in North Carolina
A Program of the Center for Sustainable Tourism and the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, East Carolina University
Entrepreneur Profile: Martha Glass, Manager
Entrepreneur Organization: Agritourism Office at NC Department of Agriculture
The NC Agritourism office was founded in 2003 by Martha Glass to serve the growing niche market of Agritourism. Farmers across the state are educated and supported by the office during the process of establishing their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Martha’s Entrepreneurial Traits
Building on her career in public relations, Martha established an office within the NC Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Divisionto help farmers capitalize on an expanding segment of the tourism industry - agritourism. Successfully establishing such an office without formal training in agriculture or tourism illustrates her drive and determination for success, which are essential traits for entrepreneurs. Another characteristic that is associated with entrepreneurs is the willingness to assume risk, which she has demonstrated by building an organization from the ground up. While the program is state-funded, it was nevertheless a significant risk to launch such a visible public office. Additionally, she saw the need for a forum for farmers to learn from each other and founded the NC Agritourism Networking Association (ANA). Entrepreneurs are known for seeing a need and mobilizing the resources to address it. Through the Agritourism Office and NC ANA, Martha helps to bridge relationships among new, potential and successful agritourism farmers across the state. She also provides educational opportunities, information on new industry trends, and advocates for the needs of agritourism farmers on a statewide and national level. These actions illustrate Martha’s characteristics as a “social entrepreneur” and show that her efforts provide benefit beyond her own personal gain.
The NC Agritourism Networking Association (ANA) was the first of its kind in North Carolina, among the first in the nation, and is now recognized nationally as the largest statewide agritourism organization. Her expertise and experience in establishing a successful statewide organization led to other states seeking request for guidance regarding implementation and growth of their own agritourism programs.
collaborated with other professionals to establish the Southeast Region
Agritourism Council, a resource to help facilitate communication and networking
among southeastern states’ professional service providers working in the
agriculture and tourism industries
Challenges in Growing the Agritourism Industry
One of the challenges that Martha faces is the timing of communication with the farmers. Most farmers start their day before sunrise and return home in the late evening. This leaves little time for responding to business correspondence, which is essential feedback to Martha and guides the office’s programs. Dwindling funding from the state budget and grants also present ongoing challenges as the economy is an uncontrollable external factor. The ANA has a members-only list serve that helps farmers receive resource information, send out requests for specific information, and share newsletters and other farm marketing materials electronically. Using the Internet to communicate, problem-solve and distribute information, when possible, helps to keep the operating costs of this statewide program to a minimum. In addition, regional workshops starting late in the day and ending shortly after dinner bring together ANA members and serve as an outreach program to potential agritourism farmers.
A Google search for “NC Agritourism” immediately yields a link to the state Agritourism Office followed by ANA. One more link down is the General Store, a free online directory of over 500 agritourism businesses in North Carolina. A wealth of information about the industry and resources it offers can be found in just minutes on the General Store and Agritourism Office websites. Other venues Martha uses to market the office’s services are speaking engagements at conferences,exhibitor booths at targeted conferences, and word of mouth. Martha notes that she meets most of her constituents through these Internet connections as well asreferrals by other farmers who are already engaged in agritourism and involved in ANA.
What Inspires Martha
Martha finds satisfaction in her career through the opportunity to help others. Working collaboratively with farmers and transforming their plans into reality allows Martha to enjoy a career with flexibility and autonomy. Rarely will Martha be found sitting at a desk all day. Instead, she is out visiting farms across the state, attending extension and other tourism meetings to network with other professionals, and sharing her expertise with other farmers through her membership on the Executive Board of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, where she serves as secretary to the Board and chair of the Promotions Team. These are all supportive components in Martha’s immediate entrepreneurial climate, which contribute to her professional success and enduring energy that she commits to her work.
Trust Is What Makes This Work
Networking is a key component of the entrepreneurial climate for the NC Agritourism office and the ANA. Networks are facilitated between Martha and her industry colleagues, in addition to those among farmers, customers, nonprofits and state-agencies. “The best collaborators I have are the farmers… they are the ones who support what I do.” Martha encourages the establishment of personal relationships based on honesty, integrity and ethics -“Follow the Golden Rule - if you don’t do that then you don’t build up trust…and trust is what makes this work.”
Sustainability Factors of Organization
The agritourism venture in itself is an inherent form of economic sustainability for agricultural farms. Without creativity and diversification to add value to existing farms, many would not be able to financially survive. Martha realizes the popularity and importance of the local food movement and encourages farmers to incorporate sustainable practices as a part of their business plan. “Taking Local Beyond the Farm” was the theme of the 2011 ANA conference, emphasizing the partnerships that can exist between farmers and restaurants, and farmers and grocery stores. The 2012 ANA Conference highlighted the slow but hopeful growth in the sustainable economy with the theme “Successful Farms in Today’s Economy”. In 2013 the ANA Conference theme builds on 2012 with the title “Growth and Prosperity in Your Future”, encouraging farmers to continue emphasis on sustainability as a key component for growth.
Focuses for the Future
one-person operation, the Agritourism Office serves over 500 farmers across the
state of North Carolina. Martha plans to continue advocating for her farmers,
and sharing resources to help farmers implement many new ideas and practices to
further their success. She also sees that in the future the need for leadership
among the farmers themselves will be met as agritourism farmers are seeking
election and appointments to local and state policy positions. Martha’s vision
for the future is to watch as the seeds that she has planted for growth in
North Carolina agritourism will be cultivated by the farming community, which
will result in further development and success.