Agritourism opportunities have growing impact on Bradenton area

On the heels of another successful annual Tourism Week event May 6 -- during which we reflected on a successful 2014 -- focus now shifts to the future for the Bradenton area and the growth drivers that were identified by our research firm (Research Data Services) to be of emerging interest to our visitors. One, which might come as a surprise to some, is agritourism.

Though our beaches, sporting venues and cultural assets draw guests, many are also seeking new and unique opportunities to get up close and personal with livestock, take tours of local farms, ranches and fishing villages and sample some delicious local foods. With many rich ties to the land, the sea and all they produce for us, the Bradenton area is quickly becoming one of the best places to do it all.

In addition to our year-round events in celebration of the area's culinary offerings, farms and seafood, visitors can also:

Tour Dakin Dairy Farm, a sustainable farm where they can feed a calf, follow the milk from cow to bottle and try fresh milk, cheese and ice cream; visit Bearadise Ranch to watch the famous Welde Family Bears; stop into Mixon Fruit Farms, a working fruit grove celebrating Florida's citrus industry; enjoy dancing Herrman's Lipizzan Stallions at their training grounds, and so much more.

The Bradenton area also offers "U-Pick" farms. At places like Mixon Fruit Farms, the family-owned King Family Farm (known for its peaches, blueberries and tomatoes), O'Brien Family Farm and nearby Gamble Creek Farm (where hydroponic strawberries and other organic produce are grown), they can pick and enjoy treats right off the vine. O'Brien Family Farm's strawberry shortcake is to die for, so go visit this fall and you will continue to go back.

Many of the area's top restaurants source food locally from these farms. And, in addition to produce, diners can also enjoy gulf-to-table meals thanks to our burgeoning aquaculture.

Our very own Cortez Fishing Village is the oldest working fishing village in Florida and continues the sustainable practices of its forefathers. This commercial fishing community has opened its own Museum and through exhibits and programs it interprets a unique culture, celebrating the traditional life on our coast. Cortez Village is a hidden gem in Florida, and we are thrilled to have this in our own backyard.

Not to be forgotten are the area's two win

eries: Rosa Fiorelli and Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery. Both are family-owned and offer walking tours during which visitors can learn about growing season, harvesting time and the Florida fruits incorporated into each bottle. Bunker Hill also offers a cottage for people that just want to getaway and enjoy real Florida.

The luncheon included close to 10 agricultural booths featuring area products and 80 percent of the food served was sourced locally and donated. The day's speakers included David Randle, managing director of the Sustainable Tourism Program at USF and Benjamin Parks, executive director of the Florida Agritourism Association, who both emphasized the importance of local sustainable initiatives in driving visitation.

We are grateful for the support received from our local farms and, as agritourism grows in popularity and continues to represent an important economic driver for the Bradenton area, I hope that more visitors (and residents) take the time to support them and enjoy what our local land has to offer. You will never imagine the quality agricultural assets that we have until you take the time to visit them.

For more information on agritourism in the Bradenton area, visit bradentongulfislands.com/play/agritourism.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, can be reached at Elliott.Falcione@BACVB.com or 941-729-9177 ext. 222.