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Agritourism embracing Valley’s natural abundance

The abundance of product from wine to oysters and everything in between in the Comox Valley is evident to locals, but is also growing in popularity for those elsewhere.

The growth, particularly targeting those outside the Valley, is creating a growing sector of tourism in the area — agritourism — which Abel O'Brennan of Coastal Black Winery explains is "a way of embracing what we have in the Valley."

"We embrace the openness and honesty of our farm and we like inviting people here," he said of his family's 600-acre estate fruit winery located in Black Creek.

"It's a bit of a perfect storm. More and more people are turning to organic foods, and consumers are also seeking where their food comes from. Here in the Valley, you can know your producers; in most of the world people don't have the luxury to go to farmers and see how their food is grown."

Although Coastal Black has 80 acres of blackberries onsite in which to grow (making it the largest cultivated blackberry farm in Canada), they also handle all pollinating in the vineyard with their own bees, which provide them with blackberry honey for sale and honey for their meads.

O'Brennan said in addition to tastings, they offer winery tours, events, and their bistro with a wood-fired pizza oven offers food and wine pairings throughout the summers months.

For the second year, the winery has hosted Flavour: The North Island's Gourmet Picnic, an event that showcased the region's epicurean bounty while supporting local tourism and hospitality industry.

The area's finest chefs, vintners, farmers and producers showcased their talents, and O'Brennan added this year he anticipates the sold-out event will continue to grow in size.

With its bounty of wineries, growers and producers, Discover Comox Valley organizes yearly Stay and Cycle tours each summer, with the opportunity for people to participate in a Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour.

Last year, four self-guided tours took riders and and foodies to berry and dairy farms, wine tastings and farms featuring heritage vegetables, sprouts, oysters and the Comox Valley Farmers' Market.

The tours allow the opportunity to showcase the Valley's rural areas, in addition to a behind-the-scenes experience with a chance to meet local farmers, explore the source of the produce and taste samples.

John Watson, executive director of Comox Valley Economic Development and Tourism explained CVED recently updated a five-year regional economic development strategic plans which continues to focus on a significant, integrated approach to agri-investment attraction, agrifood business retention and expansion programs and culinary and agritoursim product development and marketing.

"The 2014 Comox Valley Destination Marketing Tactical Plan outlines an increased focus on expanding culinary and agritoursim festivals and events as a way to drive increased overnight visitation," he noted in an e-mail.

"A sub-committee to the regions Destination Marketing Advisory Committee, called the Culinary Event Expansion and Development Sub-Committee, will focus on this tactic via an expanded BC Shellfish Festival, the Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour, Toast Comox Valley and Dine Around, while we continue to market the regions other culinary and agritourism festivals and product including the Comox Valley Farmers' Market."

Watson added CVEDS will continue to partner with the farmers' market, Farmers' Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture on the development of the Comox Valley Growers' Guide, which is designed to drive increased farm gate sales activities via local and tourism consumers.

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