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SAVOR THE SEASON: US, Canada work on world’s largest international cuisine trail

December 21, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The planning phase is over. Now it's time to actually build the world's largest international agritourism trail - cuisine trail, tasting trail, culinary trail - whatever they are going to call it.

"They" being the agriculture and tourism officials in New York, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario. Two states, two provinces and two countries are working together - from the ground up - to connect their own agritourism trails into a 1,500-kilometer (more than 900-mile) network - the world's largest. The purpose?

"If we are able to then connect with Vermont and Canada and really create this international connection," said Ernest Hohmeyer, co-owner of the Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat and Franklin County representative on the Adirondack Cuisine Trail Association, "now we can really leverage all of these into more of an international effort to go after the European market, the Asian market."

Article Photos

The Circuit du Paysan sign at Cidrerie du Minot in Hemmingford, Quebec, shows the stops along this cuisine trail in the Monteregie region south of Montreal.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

It's a big goal, which requires a big project, but it's not being done by the federal governments of the United States or Canada. There's no talk of President Donald Trump or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or the "new" NAFTA, the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement). This is a grassroots effort.

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Grassroots effort

The group building the international agritourism trail - CANAMEX - kind of sounds like the new USMCA, but it is not. It stands for Canadian/American Exchange, not Canada-America-Mexico, as some might guess. It is the brainchild of David Gillespie, a farmer from L'Isle-aux-Allumettes, Quebec, an island in the Ottawa River in Pontiac, a regional county municipality in the Outaouais region northwest of Ottawa.

CANAMEX was founded in 2002, but the push to build an international agritourism trail started in January 2016 with a meeting in St-Remi, Quebec and has evolved over the past three years.

"The goal of CANAMEX is to promote sustainable as well as value added agriculture between Canada and the United States," Gillespie wrote in a March 2, 2017 report titled "CANAMEX: A Canadian Perspective."

The CANAMEX committee consists of volunteers from the U.S. and Canada and includes farmers, learning institutions, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, tourism and agriculture organizations, and small businesses.

Since 2002, CANAMEX has organized agriculture tours to cideries, cheese factories, wineries, breweries, orchards, farms, etc. The latest one was Oct. 16-17, when contingents from New York and Vermont took an agritourism tour on a motor coach in Quebec and Ontario. It included agriculture and tourism organizations, government agencies, media, farmers and food producers. The purpose of the tour was to get the stakeholders familiarized with the agritourism assets already available north of the border.

Three CANAMEX goals were set in 2016, according to Gillespie's report.

1. Agritourism: Set up a permanent agritourism circuit between Quebec, New York and Vermont encircling Lake Champlain through existing cuisine trails, such as the Circuit du Paysan in the Monteregie region of southern Quebec. The network would also include Ontario.

2. Innovation: Link learning institutions from these states and provinces and establish projects and studies in the field of innovation.

3. Community outreach: Link the agriculture communities from the states and provinces to the communities - schools, local government, local non-government organizations, farmers, agriculture businesses, hostelries, media, etc.

"It is hoped that establishing a cross border link with all three objectives will encourage a solid exchange of ideas and cultural practices in promoting sustainable as well as value added agriculture," Gillespie wrote in the report.

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Progress in 2018

In order for New York and Vermont to participate in the CANAMEX international agritourism trail, they needed to create their own trails on both sides of Lake Champlain, since that was the original focal point for this project. And that's exactly what they did in 2018.

On June 28, Vermont's agritourism officials announced the creation of the Lake Champlain Tasting Trail, which was developed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, the Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, the Vermont Fresh Network and the University of Vermont Extension. It includes 50 Vermont producers, restaurants, farms, farmers markets, breweries, cideries and wineries along Lake Champlain.

Visitors can find the trail's destinations online at DigInVt.com.

"Years of strong collaboration have set the table for developing Vermont's Lake Champlain Tasting Trail," Vermont Agency of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman said in a press release at the time. "The DigInVT online platform provides a richly populated starting point for discovering more of Vermont's culinary and agricultural experiences, and the Lake Champlain Tasting Trail is the perfect example of that in action."

On Oct. 5, New York's agritourism officials announced the creation of six Adirondack cuisine trails on the western side of Lake Champlain in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. The trails were developed by the Adirondack Cuisine Trail Association in coordination with the state departments of agriculture and transportation and Empire State Development. In all, the trails represent 83 businesses.

Gillespie called the creation of the Adirondack cuisine trails "critical" to the international agritourism trail network "because if you didn't have New York, how would we go around Lake Champlain? It just would not happen. That loop is absolutely essential."

Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball - a potato farmer from Schoharie - said at the announcement at Tucker Farms in Gabriels that today's public is interested in agriculture and how farmers produce the food we eat.

"I'm happy to see this next generation has rediscovered what our grandparents knew about food," Ball said. "They knew when it was in season, how to capture the flavor in it, how to can it and preserve it, get the best of nutrition out of it."

Ball supports the international agritourism trail and is doing what he can on the state government level to make it happen.

"I will be communicating with the minister of agriculture in Canada in support of that," Ball said. "He and I have met and spoken. He's actually a potato grower as well. We very much like that idea."

There are currently 38 culinary trails in New York state, including cuisine trails, beverage trails, a cheese trail, an apple trail and ice cream trails. Information about these trails can be found online at the Taste NY website (taste.ny.gov/).

When complete, the international trail network would include New York's six new Adirondack cuisine trails, the new Lake Champlain Tasting Trail in Vermont, and at least three of the regions visited during October's CANAMEX agritourism tour: the Monteregie region in Quebec south of Montreal, the Pontiac region in Quebec northwest of Ottawa, and the Prescott Russell region in Ontario south of Ottawa.

"The trails actually exist, certainly on the Quebec side," Gillespie said Oct. 17 at the St-Albert Cheese Factory in Ontario during the agritourism tour. "New York, as you probably know, has just inaugurated their six-trail system, but they've already had trails throughout New York, like in the Finger Lake region and elsewhere. And Vermont did it officially at the end of June this year. Now it's a matter of not reinventing the wheel but taking what's actually existing and grouping it together. That's unique."

In early November, Gillespie traveled to the first World Congress on Agritourism in Italy to present his idea of the Canadian-American international agritourism trail.

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Next steps

Finding ways to connect the agritourism trails in New York, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario is one of the next steps. It's the actual building of the trail network - the nuts and bolts of the project. That includes branding - coming up with a name for the trail.

"We're going to set group meetings by each region, that is groups will work together from Vermont, one from New York, one from Quebec and Ontario," Gillespie said Oct. 17. "Then those group leaders will convene to see what we can do based on specific criteria that will be given before we meet. For example, the branding of the culinary trails. What about website sharing or design? What about biosecurity regulations and awareness?"

The process of crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is also something the groups will discuss, yet that's not the biggest challenge of the project, according to Gillespie.

"In a funny way, you would have thought it was the border, but it's not," he said. "It's to try and contain all the ideas in something manageable because there's so much excitement, it's generating a lot of ideas. What we obviously can't do is implement them all. ... So what we want to do is to pair the ideas and group them so that we can make it fairly simple so we can actually make it happen."

Chuck Ross, director of the University of Vermont Extension, attended the October tour of agriculture destinations in Canada. Speaking at the St-Albert Cheese Factory, he said the planning stage for the international agritourism trail is over.

"Now it's trying to enhance the system we already have in place, identify opportunities and make those happen, like this tour we're on today, and identify obstacles and remove them so it's easier to understand what this trail is all about and why it would be something of interest to a tourist from near or far," Ross said.

In order to pull off this project, Ross said all the stakeholders need to work together.

"It's going to require all of us to recognize that we all have our assets and strengths, and by sharing them together, we'll be more attractive to more people and in so doing, we're hopefully going to have lots more people come to this region as a destination for global citizens who are interested in agritourism as well as our regional populations and national populations," Ross said.

The short-term goals include linking the existing trails, but the CANAMEX committee has not yet determined how to do that exactly. They could be linked digitally through a shared website or individual websites, through maps and other printed material or through advertisements.

One goal is to show the traveling public all the possibilities. That requires an educational component of the marketing plan. So if a family is making its way along the Lake Champlain Tasting Trail in Vermont, they're shown links to the trails in New York and Canada.

"There's nothing that's required in order to go from one trail to the other. It's just your knowledge," Ross said. "So it's really, at the base level, sharing knowledge of one another's existence and the complementarity of the various trails. As we know, Quebec has great wine. Vermont has great cheese and beer. And so there's a connection right there that people might want to try some Canadian wine, come to Vermont and try our cheese and our beer."

In New York, the next phase is figuring out a marketing plan for the six new Adirondack cuisine trails. While they were launched in October - the names of the trails, the destinations and rough maps - there is currently no way for the public to plan a trip along those trails. There are no printed visitor guides, and none of the trails have websites.

"The first thing that I need to do now is organize the group, the Adirondack Lakes Cuisine Trail, and just let them know, here's what's happening, here's what some of the ideas are, mainly to hear from them," Hohmeyer said on Oct. 17. "So we organize that plan. Then we take that plan and we then as a region, as the Adirondack Cuisine Trail Association, how do those individual plans fit in with the overall thing? What's the host going to be for all of these trails? Where are the maps going to be? How do we work with I Love NY and Taste of New York specifically to promote these things? So those are now the next steps that we need to take and we need to figure out."

One idea is to have Adirondack Harvest - a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County - be the marketing platform for the Adirondack cuisine trails. It already promotes agriculture in northern New York on its website, adirondackharvest.com.

Hohmeyer said he sees the next steps for the U.S.-Canada agritourism trail coming together from the ground up - starting with the individual cuisine trails, moving on to the regional trail systems, then combining those with an international network.

As the project moves into 2019, Ross said the CANAMEX partners already have some momentum, and now it's time to "knock small obstacles out of the way and let this thing grow organically."

 
 

 

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