The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 7, 2012

Entering a new field

Growing industry of agritourism how farmers, ranchers can sustain a traditional way of life

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — Agritourism is a growing industry throughout the state, allowing farmers, ranchers and producers to stretch their bottom lines by offering a glimpse into their everyday lives.

Stan Ralstin, rural development specialist with Garfield County Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Center, said agritourism in Oklahoma encompasses many specialties the state has to offer, from wineries and vineyards to hunting and fishing venues and farmers markets.

“It’s an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to utilize resources in an additional way, generate additional income and allow people to come out to farms and ranches, hunting and fishing venues,” he said. “It’s another way to use the resources they have and assets they have to share with other people and have a chance to make money.”



Fast-growing industry



Agritourism in Oklahoma has more than 500 venues, and Ralstin said it’s quickly becoming an industry in the state.

Twelve categories are listed on Oklahoma’s Agritourism website: vineyard and winery; hunting; guest ranch; trail riding; U-pick farms and gardens; maze; country stay; specialty crops or products; exotics; museums, farm and ranch attractions; farmers market; and birding.

“There’s just tons and tons of opportunities out there.”

Most operations began as farmers and ranchers attempting to make more when traditional incomes fell short, Ralstin said.

“There are some people that invested in a farm or a ranch just strictly for tourism,” he said. “Some are actually investing just for the opportunity, for the tourists.”



Old West outside Ames



From April through October each year, the Island Guest Ranch opens its gates and welcomes visitors seeking a taste of the Old West.

The ranch in Ames is run by Carl L. White and his family. They are a fourth-generation ranching family spanning more than 100 years of Oklahoma history.

They’ve been in the tourism business about a third of that time.

“We opened the guest ranch almost 30 years ago,” said Jordy White, Carl’s daughter.

She said guests to the ranch can take part in whatever activities and become as involved in the operation as they please. White said the ranch offers horseback riding, fishing, swimming, hiking, trap shooting, western dancing and trolley rides.

“Guests can really get in the thick of working on a ranch, or they can sit by the pool if they prefer,” she said.

The ranch offers all of the amenities of home, Jordy said, and doesn’t force anyone to rough it as the old cowboys once did.

“It allows guests to experience the West and western lifestyle without leaving the comforts of home,” she said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on the fact when people come our for the holidays or a vacation we don’t rush them. We absolutely want to provide a fantastic vacation on whatever level you want.”

Guests from around the world visit the ranch, located on an island in the Cimarron River between Oklahoma highways 8 and 132.

White said the family heavily advertises the ranch overseas and has hosted guests from as far away as southwest Asia and the Middle East.

“People who come in and really want to get into the cattle work, building fences, roping and really get into the thick of it, can,” she said. “We take basically everyone at any skill level from all over the world.”

Those at the ranch for an extended stay are just limited to the amenities the Whites can offer.

“When they do come to the ranch, they don’t have to stay just here,” White said. “We take them basically all over the state.”

She said visitors are taken to museums and other sites across the state.

“They get a really good feel for Oklahoma by the time they are finished with their vacation,” White said.

For those not on extended stays or vacations, other services are available.

“We’re not only for the guest ranch,” she said. “We offer weddings, as well, conventions and meetings for groups or family.”

Island Guest ranch can be reached by calling (800) 928-4574 or at www.islandguestranch.com.



Wine country in Fairview



Dennis and Elaine Flaming own and operate Plymouth Valley Cellars in Fairview.

“We have a four-and-a-half-acre vineyard,” Elaine Flaming said. “We grow our own grapes, nine varieties. We hand-process, pick, prune and harvest.”

In 2006, Oklahoma Farm Bureau named Dennis and Elaine Flaming its Farm Family of the Year, the same year the couple opened Plymouth Valley Cellars.

The Flamings have raised livestock, wheat and alfalfa since they married in 1966.

“It’s a turnkey job. We produce the wine there,” she said. “Whatever we grow we produce into wine.”

Elaine Flaming said they offers country stays and other events.

“We host weddings, receptions, reunions, proms, family gatherings,” she said. “We have an events center, sales room, gift room, tasting room and tours of the vineyard and winery.”

She said there also are RV hook-ups available at the winery and a cabin available for rent.

“This is just like going to a bed and breakfast. If you want to stay one day, a week or a couple of nights, whatever you want.”

Plymouth Valley Cellars can be reached by calling (580) 227-3279 or at www.plymouthvalleycellars .com.