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June 12, 2008

Guidebook to enhance artisan, agritourism trails

woman painting
Janet Francoeur of Carolina Creations Fine Art and Contemporary Craft Gallery in New Bern paints porcelain at the launch event for the Homegrown Handmade guidebook in Greene County. (Photo by Natalie Hampton)

Ever dreamed of paddling down Greene County’s Contentnea Creek, shopping through the artwork of a chainsaw sculptor, visiting the humble Wayne County birthplace of Gov. Charles B. Aycock or attending the fall Muscadine Festival in Kenansville?

If you’re the type of tourist who longs to wander the back roads of North Carolina, seeking historic sites, artisans, farms and produce stands, and of course, the state’s finest barbecue, the new guidebook, Homegrown Handmade: Art Roads and Farm Trails, is not to be missed.

The guidebook was launched in June at an event in Greene County, which boasts a number of sites in the book. The book was created through a partnership of North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

Five years ago, both groups asked the Golden LEAF Foundation for funds to develop a guide to both cultural arts trails and agritourism sites across Piedmont and eastern North Carolina. Golden LEAF asked the two groups to partner in their efforts, and Homegrown Handmade was born.

Cooperative Extension’s Southeast AgriCultural Toursim Task Force worked with the N.C. Arts Council to identify sites across 76 Piedmont and eastern North Carolina counties. Their efforts had resulted in the development of 16 driving trails across some of the state’s most scenic and rural counties. Until now, the trails were available only through the Homegrown Handmade Web site --
http://www.homegrownhandmade.com/ -- which required tourists to do some serious planning before embarking on a trail tour.

The book is available for $19.95 in retail book stories, through Web-based book sellers and Cooperative Extension county centers. It gives driving tourists the flexibility of leaving the Internet behind as they meander down country roads.

At the launch, several business owners described their experiences with Homegrown Handmade. Natalie Relyea, co-owner of Relyea’s Produce Patch and Crazy Claw Prawns, described how she and her husband had decided 18 years ago to diversify their tobacco operation into a produce operation. Recently, the couple received a grant to open the first prawn processing facility in the United States to support the growing region’s prawn industry. She expressed confidence that the guidebook would be a dream for both tourists and business owners.

“There’s nothing like riding in the country and seeing a green field with grazing cows,” she said.

Mary Betty Kearney of the Benjamin W. Best Country Inn and Carriage House and her husband have converted an historic home and carriage house into their business, the site of the guidebook launch. Visitors at the event also enjoyed another of Kearney’s products, hamburgers made from her family’s natural Nooherooka Angus beef.

She also described her term as a Greene County commissioner, working to convince fellow policymakers that the economic future of the county – once the state’s most tobacco-dependent – was tied to prospects for attracting and supporting new business enterprises. Today, a number of Greene County’s successful small businesses are featured in the Homegrown Handmade guide.

A podcast from the event is available on the N.C. Division of Cultural Resources Web site.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at June 12, 2008 08:46 AM