Northern New York counties pursue ‘food trail’

Jay White envisions a time when tourists come to northern New York not only for the skiing and leaf-

Jay White envisions a time when tourists come to northern New York not only for the skiing and leaf-peeping, but also for the food.

“Culinary tourism” is a growing segment of the travel industry, with more people willing to spend money seeking out unique dining experiences, according to research cited in “The Rise of Food Tourism,” a report from Skift, a travel news website based in New York City, and the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, a nonprofit food and beverage tourism consultant in Toronto.

“Food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about, appreciates, and/or consumes food and drink that reflects the local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture,” says the report.

That’s the spirit behind the effort organized by White, board president of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Essex County, which is seeking state designation for “cuisine trails” in Essex, Franklin and Clinton counties, in the far northeastern corner of the state.

Such trails are part of the mission of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to promote New York farms and farm products. The trails, covering up to 75 miles, are meant to offer “unusual, unique or hard-to- find” local products from a complementary mix of farms and businesses (restaurants, inns, shops) along the route, which the state helps direct visitors to.

White started talking up the idea in January, seeing it as part of Cooperative Extension’s work to support farmers and producers but also helping to raise Essex County’s profile among travelers. Business, tourism and government leaders got behind the idea, and soon neighboring Franklin and Clinton counties wanted in.

Now organized as the nonprofit Adirondack Cuisine Trail Association, they submitted a formal application to the state for recognition for two trails in each of the three counties.

White said initial state feedback on the request is expected soon.

If ultimately approved, White said, theirs would be the first state-designated trails with “cuisine” in the name; New York already has sanctioned wine trails in the Finger Lakes and elsewhere, and beverage trails in various counties, including nearby Schoharie, Greene and Columbia.

White said a cross-border alliance also is possible with southern Quebec’s cuisine/agri-tourism trail known as Circuit du Paysan, which began nearly 20 years ago and sees hundreds of thousands of travelers annually.

White’s effort sparked the Cooperative Extension office in neighboring St. Lawrence County to begin the groundwork for an application, and led to discussions, too, in nearby Lewis and Jefferson counties.

The Cooperative Extension office in Saratoga County also is watching the process with interest.

White acknowledges that he “kicked off a trend” of talking about food tourism that extends beyond Essex County.

He says helping travelers understand the culture and geography of a region through its food makes for a broader visitor experience that is “more productive, tourism-wise and for agriculture.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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