TTU to offer state’s first concentration in agritourism

thumb_TTUShipley1TTU agriculture professor Michael Best, Bill Shipley and School of Agriculture Director Billye Foster tour the Shipley Barn recently to discuss plans to transform the property into a 1830s heritage farm center.Tennessee Tech University formally recognizes the marriage of agriculture and tourism – Tennessee's top two income-producing industries – with creation of a new degree concentration in agritourism.

The first classes offered within the concentration, part of the current bachelor of science in agriculture degree, will be offered Spring Semester 2011. TTU is the first university in Tennessee to formally offer a degree concentration in agritourism.

Along with the new degree concentration, the School of Agriculture is proposing an extensive renovation of the historic Shipley Barn located on Highway 290 west of TTU's main campus. School of Agriculture Director Billye Foster envisions creation of the Shipley Heritage Farm Center, a 1830s-style farm and laboratory for TTU's agritourism students.

"We want to convert this 9.5 acres into a living 1830s farmstead. Think of it as a mini-Williamsburg where our students have the opportunity to work as docents," she said. "It's going to be a really cool learning experience for our students."

Foster said Tennessee needs a degree concentration in agritourism to provide the industry with managers who understand the market trends and operational demands of a working farm and how tourism can enhance the revenue opportunities of such farms. Agritourism includes a variety of activities, such as tours, petting zoos, festivals, U-pick farms, bed and breakfast inns, farm vacations, concerts/music events, camping, hiking and wineries.

"Agritourism offers a practical way to effectively expand the income possibilities of existing farms and ranches. As Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Region continue to embrace tourism with the desire to maintain traditional lifestyles, it is imperative our students learn how to blend the best of agriculture, their heritage and the tourism industry," she said.

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee has more than 79,000 farms encompassing 10.9 million acres of land. Yet fewer than 30 percent of those farms generated sales in excess of $10,000 in 2008.

"Students involved in agriculture today must develop the ability to adapt and think outside the box if they are to survive in the world outside of academia. Agritourism will provide our students with practical academics combined with exemplary experiential learning opportunities," Foster said.

The centerpiece of the degree concentration will be the Shipley Heritage Farm Center.

The Shipley barn was constructed by Abraham Buck, a pioneer who came to Tennessee from North Carolina with his brothers, Isaac and Jonathan, in 1818. Buck built a log cabin and the barn at the present site, where he and his wife raised 12 daughters. The proposal for the Shipley Heritage Farm Center includes recreating the farmhouse, refurbishing the barn and developing a living history museum of area agriculture.

"Nearly everyone I've met in Cookeville has a story about the Shipley Farm. We're looking for people in the area who may have outbuildings or equipment from this period that we can move here and preserve," Foster said.

In development of the heritage farm idea, Foster said funding will come primarily from private donations, grants and fundraisers to be held on site.

The Tennessee Board of Regents has granted approval for the degree concentration and funding for one staff position to develop the Shipley Heritage Farm Center. Recruiting for the center's staff position could begin as early as next year.

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