" When Marcy Tudor
received an invitation to tour farms in Poland, she was unfamiliar with the
country's tourism industry.
So a recent trip through that nation's countryside gave the Pennsylvania
Farm Vacation Association president ideas for improving ' farmstays,' or farm
vacations, throughout the state, including her own 100-acre plot in Avella.
' Nancy Crago, the extension agent who leads this trip every year,
called me to ask if I'd be interested,' Tudor said. ' She told me that most of
(Poland's) rural development is in agritourism. I made the decision to go in a
couple of days.'
Tudor, who has operated Weatherbury Farms with her husband since 1992,
joined a group of extension agents in late August for the hands-on study. The
group met with owners of farm vacation homes, as well as mayors, members of
Parliament and the country's equivalent to extension agents.
Crago, Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension's agent for
Allegheny County, started the exchange program five years ago after spending
18 months in Poland as part of a five-year federal project. Crago was one of
several representatives from 31 states who worked to help the post-communist
democracy restructure its agricultural industry.
Now, Crago organizes a group of 10 extension agents once every two years to
visit farmstay owners and meet with political leaders to see how the
agricultural industry is growing. This year, she decided to include someone
from the tourism industry.
' We wanted to get someone involved who represents agritourism
efforts in Pennsylvania,"' Crago said. ' We asked Marcy to participate
because we want someone to see what they're doing (in Poland) and bring back
some ideas here to hopefully work with our agritourism in Pennsylvania.'
Farmstays are privately owned farms that offer an alternative holiday
experience. Most offer bed and breakfast-style accommodations and invite
guests to participate in daily farm chores.
In Poland, the farmstay industry is booming.
' The number of farmstays is literally in the thousands,' Crago
said. "When you think of Poland as a country the size of New Mexico, it's
an overwhelming and staggering number. Of course, some are more successful
than others, but as far as registered homes there are thousands.'
The Polish government in the early 1990s opted to eliminate income tax on
farmstay accommodations to boost a weakened economy, Crago explained. Since
then, the number of farmstays has reached the thousands. According to
Agritourism in Poland, an information service based in Warsaw, more than 4,000
farms currently accommodate paying guests.
As president of the Farm Vacation Association, Tudor works with owners of
more than 20 farmstays throughout the state. She is scheduled to meet with
members in November, when she plans to encourage members with some new ideas,
including a promotion of weeklong stays and nightly bonfires for guests.
' Europeans have a whole different mindset toward vacations, ' Tudor
said. ' I would like to see (farmstays) become much more known in Pennsylvania
and throughout the country, and I think there's opportunity for that. ' "