Go Rural for Business - Blog
Food For Thought - My Italian Agritourismo Experience by Cameron Laird, Cairnie Fruit Farm
19th October 2015
Though I have visited Italy several times through the years, the recent well organised and purposeful Go Rural "Learning Journey" trip was my first visit to Tuscany & Umbria and my first experience staying in an Agritourimso. After landing in Rome in the warm sunshine to the aroma of proper Italian coffee, my fellow Go Rural early risers and I, cozy in our two-car convoy (complete with our own Visit Scotland Italian translator), left the city lights of Rome behind and headed off to begin our taste of Italian Agritourism in Italy's stunning and tranquil countryside.
Our schedule included visiting several contrasting rural businesses and meeting with Italian Agricultural industry leaders who outlined and and answered our questions about the Agritourism sector in the region. It became clear that the government support (tax breaks and various grant schemes) provided to the farmers has been instrumental in restoring and preserving the heritage of the region.
Further, the stipulations of the Agritourismo scheme has ensured that the farm land must be farmed properly which in turn guarantees the provenance of the food produced in the region etc. At some of the businesses we visited this farming stipulation also encouraged family generations to remain (or return) home to be involved in a sustainable "family business." There was no denying however the underlying passion and sense of place these farming families/businesses we met, spent time and shared meals with held dear.
The region doesn't disappoint. I was struck by the unspoilt scenery and the grandeur of the lovely traditional buildings still in use. All good.
However, while preserving their "story" of simple but traditional, family generations, passion, food and hospitality, the Italian Agritourism model also restricts further commerical development by disallowing expansion (new buildings) and imposing regulations on income allowed from tourism vs. farming, all of which is carefully controlled by the government.
For this reason, I can't see how this particular model of government assistance to farming families would translate to Scotland or indeed the wider UK. However, despite the obvious differences (advantages ?) in climate, lifestyle and scale (my business model is much larger in scale than those we visited), this visit confirmed my thoughts. I feel strongly that Scotland has some world class USP's including scenery, food, accommodation and hospitality to name but a few. With some proper recognition and support from our local councils and government, there would be nothing stopping Scotland becoming a very strong and diverse Agritourism/Rural Tourism destination. A properly supported new Agritourism Sector could be a huge feather in Scotland's tourism cap.
The few days was also a brilliant opportunity to step away from the day to day runnings of my own business and reflect on what could be improved (there is work to be done!) and to meet other like-minded (foodies) business owners was invaluable. Loving my Balsamic Glassa too!