William C. Pao, The China Post
As more city slickers visit the countryside during the recently implemented two-day weekends, farms are turning themselves into tourist attractions where people can pick fruit, relax and increase their understanding of farm culture and lifestyle.
According to experts, this transition in the function of farms is a viable way for the agricultural industry to stay alive, now that Taiwan is about to enter the World Trade Organization. “There is definitely room for the farm tourism industry to grow,” said Chang Ching-lai, director of the ROC Agriculture Tourism Development Association, citing the fact that tourism occupies only eight percent of Taiwan’s GNP, as opposed to 20 percent for developed nations. Statistics provided by the Council of Agriculture (COA) under the Executive Yuan show that as many as 200 so-called “tourist farms” are in operation throughout Taiwan, and more than 1.2 million people have visited them over the past year. Tourist farms along the mountains of Miaoli County, for example, are now blossoming with flowers and seasonal fruits, attracting families with children on summer break. Sanwan and Chuolan, in northern and southern Miaoli, are famous for biologically-improved pears that are crispy and watery. Kungkuan, in middle Miaoli, is known for its greenish brown, sweet-tasting red dates, fruits that are mostly found in southern mainland China but are able to grow in Kungkuan’s soil. In addition to tourist farms, there are several “farm resorts” in Taiwan where visitors can stay overnight. The northern county of Ilan has three to four reputed farm resorts. Shangri-la Farm Resort not only has well-developed fruit-picking areas but also small, unique cabins where people can spend the night. The resort periodically announces special offers to attract more tourists. In May, for example, it offered free fruit-picking and farm tours if visitors stayed overnight. Peikuan and Toucheng are two other famous farm resorts in Ilan County. Peikuan boasts Taiwan’s only crab museum. Toucheng Resort has a hiking trial, allowing visitors to enjoy the fresh air of the woods. Some tourist farms and farm resorts, with the help of the COA, are making efforts to position themselves as cultural sites — so that visitors can get more out of visiting farms than just a basket full of fruit. For example, Nanpu Village in the northern county of Hsinchu is co-developing its “Beautiful Farm” with the COA. The goal is to create an agricultural resort that teaches visitors about farm lifestyle and culture, in addition to just having them buy agricultural products. The village is known for old yet well-preserved Hakka farmhouses such as Chinchian House and Chang’s House.
Some farm resorts provide educational programs for parents and kids alike. These programs include lectures on farm operations, production, and ecological system, and activities designed for visitors to experience what people do on farms. “Taiwan’s infrastructure, health and service standards are good, but traditional farms have a hard time coming up with better marketing strategies,” Chang said. “Focusing on culture, instead of selling more products, is not a bad idea.”