Another roadside attraction

Look into our crystal ball and you’ll see a future where you can plan a Southern Appalachian food and farm adventure — think a Tuscan getaway in your own backyard — with the click of a button! (Okay, with a couple of clicks. But, it will be easy, we promise.)

At Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), we’re currently working to take our online Local Food Guide one step further.

Like our print guide, the online version is a comprehensive directory of area family farms, farm stores and stands, tailgate markets, wineries, grocers, restaurants, caterers, bakers, bed and breakfasts and other distributors that supply local food.

A new trip planner component will allow you to not only easily find these food and farm destinations, but also to map them, plan a trip and get customized directions. In other words, ASAP will be your virtual travel agency and help you plan your perfect local food experience.

Because that’s what we want you to have: an experience. “Our region is unique. Food and farm tourism is more than just visiting farms and restaurants,” says ASAP’s executive director Charlie Jackson. “It’s about immersion in a culture and heritage that is centered in a landscape of farms, artisans and fine foods.”

The planner model now in the works maps nearly 600 food and farm locations from which you can plan your desired adventure. For example, you can select a start and end point for a Sunday drive, check that you want the map to only show farm stands, read about current offerings at several stands and learn about the farms behind them, and then choose a few that pique your interest. From there, the planner will map your selected route and provide all the directions needed to take you on your journey of connecting with local farmers and the foods they grow and raise.

Of course, you can plan more than a day-trip. The map highlights the Blue Ridge Parkway and includes destinations off of the 75-year-old scenic route all the way from northern Georgia through North Carolina and into western Virginia.

The planner will even interface with mobile devices and download maps to your GPS, so that you can carry your trip with you and even make changes once you’ve already hit the road. And because ASAP has the most up-to-date and accurate information on food and farms, plans are also underway for the trip planner to ask for the approximate start and end times of your trip in order to also generate local food related events — from farmers market happenings to festivals.

While the trip planner will be a new offering from ASAP, it will integrate with existing programs and events. As mentioned above, the online tool will become an extension of our web-based Local Food Guide. It will also become a helpful component of ASAP’s Family Farm Tour, an annual event held the last weekend in June during which nearly 30 family owned farms offer farm experiences for thousands of visitors.

An initial version of the trip planner will be unveiled this fall at buyappalachian.org. We expect to reveal the final version of our planning tool by spring.

— Maggie Cramer is the Communications Coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (www.asapconnections.org).Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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