Regional meeting focuses on tourism

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Hatch, Dora Ann  |  8/13/2011 12:31:33 AM

News Release Distributed 08/12/11

OAK GROVE, La. – Ways to enhance tourism resources and create new ones in rural areas of Louisiana and Mississippi were featured at the 2011 Miss-Lou Regional Tourism Summit held Aug. 9-11.

The meeting centered on regionalism and working together, said Dora Ann Hatch, agritourism coordinator for the LSU AgCenter and one of the summit coordinators.

The targeted region consists of 16 parishes in Louisiana and 17 counties in Mississippi that are located along the Mississippi River or near the state borders.

“It’s important we work together,” La. state Sen. Francis Thompson told the group at lunch. “Think about the areas you are from and come up with a plan of action. We walk over ideas every day.”

LSU AgCenter officials have met with representatives from Mississippi and Arkansas to develop plans to combine resources among university extension specialists and research scientists to strengthen support for agricultural enterprises, said LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor Dwight Landreneau.

The LSU AgCenter collaborates in MarketMaker, a successful matchmaker service for producers and consumers in 16 states and has begun the Connect My Louisiana initiative to promote broadband Internet service in 18 parishes in the delta where it is underused and needs greater awareness and adoption, Landreneau said.

People wanting to know where their food comes from is not a fad, said Grady Griffin of the Mississippi Restaurant and Hospitality Association. Specialty-crop block grant programs can connect local producers with restaurants and increase consumer traffic.

“We’ve got to work together,” Griffin said. “As Vidalia goes, so does Natchez.”

Stating that the delta region has diverse crops, Griffin encouraged the group to go to farmers markets and take local products to restaurants and suggest their use on menus.

Johnny Wessler, executive director of Louisiana North, a marketing coalition comprising 29 parishes, said he has conducted a successful farm-to-table media tour with similar events to come in the future.

Ben Erwin, CEO and co-founder of Macon Ridge Foods in Bastrop, emphasized taking advantage of regional agriculture to develop a value-added product. He said his company is the world’s first provider of sweet potato muffins in a new packaging concept called the “spout pouch.”

“We only use Louisiana sweet potatoes,” he said. “We are unique in that in the whole world no one is putting dough in a packet like this.”

Susan Roach, coordinator of technical writing at Louisiana Tech University, discussed folklife and living history. She offered suggestions on such verbal arts as oral history and sermons, as well as farmer interviews, crop identification guides and sites showing traditional versus contemporary farming.

To showcase another agritourism idea, Debra Credeur, of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, discussed paddling tours and trails. She, too, said brands can strengthen regions; hers being the parishes that border the Atchafalaya River.

A video on www.atchafalaya.org captured the attention of the Today Show, she said, and Jenna Bush Hager came to lift up crawfish traps for a story.

“Grab every opportunity you can,” Credeur said. “You never know what will become of that.”

Hatch spoke about the $115,000 grant the LSU AgCenter received from the Walton Family Foundation to facilitate efforts to make the Mississippi River parishes in northeast Louisiana a premiere nature tourism destination based on unexploited natural resources.

Besides formal presentations, the 50 summit attendees toured the Poverty Point State Historic Site, Fiske Theatre in Oak Grove and the Louisiana State Cotton Museum in Lake Providence.

The group learned that Poverty Point, which is considered the foundation of North American society, is being nominated as a World Heritage site, placing it among such exclusive sites as the Acropolis and Stonehenge.

The World Heritage List includes 936 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations considers as having outstanding universal value.

Mary Ann Van Osdell
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