San Benito County business owners, local park representatives and ranchers named infrastructure, collaboration between the government and businesses, affordable housing, liability and marketing as issues impacting rural tourism in the county.
The 18 attendees also discussed the possible outcomes if these issues were or were not addressed as part of BenitoLink’s Community Vision San Benito County listening sessions to discuss issues surrounding tourism in the county.
Tres Pinos Valley Farm owner Kerilyn LaFournaise sells eggs, fresh-cut flowers, coffee and honey at her farm stand on Southside Road. She said she hopes to expand the business into a cut-flower farm, but must increase insurance to the farm and meet the county’s liability standards.
“We heard from other farmers who have small agri-tourism in our area about what the county requires for them to have their businesses open, and with me seeking information from the county…it’s not consistent,” she said at the Sept. 26 session.
“There’s nothing on the internet whatsoever to help you to decide, ‘Where does my business land?’ and ‘What does it need to operate?’”
Even with this obstacle, LaFournaise believes the county’s first priority for encouraging ag or rural tourism should be improving the local infrastructure.
“Just having a nice road that loops around from Cienega to Hwy 25, alone, would be amazing for our tourism,” she said.
Christine Coke, who owns Coke Farm in San Juan Bautista with husband Dale, said her employees have been affected by the lack of affordable housing in the county.
She said this issue is a general problem for start-up businesses, since businesses cannot afford to pay their employees well until the business grows.
“We have to start paying somewhere,” she said. “It’s not right up here. So you have new people come into town and there isn’t available housing. That’s very difficult.”
Attendees said the worst possible outcomes for the county in 10 years from now would include agriculture and ranches becoming obsolete; businesses closing; the county remaining a bypass for travelers; Hollister remaining a bedroom community; deteriorating infrastructure, continuing loss of tourism opportunities; and construction of more housing developments without new business development.
There was substantial frustration expressed about working with county departments. Speakers pointed out regular turnover and inconsistent instructions from different county employees.
Attendees said the best possible outcomes for the county 10 years from now would be a collaboration between all government agencies and local businesses; preservation of ranches; smooth flowing traffic and reasonable condition on all county roads; robust agri-tourism; Hollister becomes a destination instead of a bedroom community for commuters; and downtown Hollister becomes a vibrant and lucrative destination.
Several members of the session set informal meetings to continue discussion on improving rural tourism in the county and increasing awareness of the growing number of rural stay locations, food tasting opportunities and the increasing number of local food products now available on the backroads of San Benito. [See BenitoLink’s ongoing Eat, Drink, Savor series to learn more about this growing tourism sector.]
The meeting was held at the Community Foundation for San Benito County’s Epicenter in Hollister as part of BenitoLink’s Community Vision San Benito County listening sessions.
BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Several notable results followed the foundation’s 2011-12 listening sessions:
- The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
- The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
- The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
- Local nonprofits, for example the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions.
Meals are served at all listening sessions and RSVPs to attend are required. To RSVP, please fill out this form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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