10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
New York's Finger Lakes boasts wine trails and a cheese trail, but now there's a new scenic drive for people who love local foods: the Sweet Treat Trail.
A promotion of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism, the new trail promotes 17 producers or vendors who use locally-sourced fresh ingredients in creating their delicacies and eight farmers markets that sell treats such as baked goods, ice cream, fruit wine, jam, jelly and honey.
Joining a promotion such as the Sweet Treat Trail may seem like a gimmick, but it does help increase business.
"Because many of the stops on the trail are agricultural, the brochure helps visitors find off-the-beaten-path places to find great local sweet treats," said Meg Vanek, executive director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism in Auburn.
Thanks to the slow food/local food movement, more businesses seek ingredients from nearby sources; however, the Sweet Treat Trail is also raising consumers' awareness of ingredient sources.
"Many of the stops supply items to local restaurants, but people really like to go right to the source and see where local products are grown or produced," Vanek said. "Plus, traveling along the trail is just plain fun as you get to meet the wonderful local people behind these unique businesses."
She added that doing so "puts a face" on the businesses.
At Bet the Farm, a winery and regional gourmet food market in Aurora, Kit Kalfs thinks joining the Sweet Treat Trail was a good marketing move.
"Anytime we can partner with other small businesses, it helps strengthen the local, rural economy," said Kalfs, who serves as the business' retail and marketing manager. "The more people we can (get to) come up to visit this area, the better we are."
Since some of the businesses, like Kalfs', are in more sparsely populated areas, "the more we can get people to come to visit a group of establishments such as ours, the stronger it makes all our businesses."
He hopes that by aligning with other small ag-based businesses, it will help bring more visitors to Cayuga County.
Bet the Farm carries dessert wine, maple syrup, jam and jelly, chocolate, chocolate sauce and peanut brittle. The company produces 600 cases of wine per year.
Joining a group marketing effort is a move that Stephanie Williams hopes will pay off. As owner, along with husband Brandon, of Bee Attitudes Honey, Williams sells raw honey and honey-based products from her home and hives in Skaneateles.
Following in her grandfather's footsteps, she has kept bees for years and started Bee Attitudes 18 months ago. The name is a take-off on the biblical Beatitudes from Christ's Sermon on the Mount.
Though Williams loves talking with people about honeybees and the many benefits of bees and their honey, more exposure through the Sweet Treat Trail will help spread the word, she said.
"The Sweet Treat Trail will invite more people to our farm," Williams said. "It will put us on the map a little bit. The Finger Lakes area is really a special place that is not yet discovered. It's not just wine and berries."
Bee Attitudes doesn't operate a storefront, so marketing help such as the Sweet Treat Trail should help attract visitors.
Williams teaches her children, Hailey, 16, and Marshall, 11, at home, and Brandon operates an investment firm from their home, so someone is usually available for honey sales.
For visitors who call ahead, she offers opportunities for guests to watch honey harvesting or hear a session on honey's benefits to humans and the role of bees in the environment.
"We're not just about selling honey but educating people," Williams said. "Our involvement with the Sweet Treat Trail is that it's a way to get our honey to people and to educate people more about bees. We need to take care of the environment so our bees can be healthier. We can share our passion with other people."
As today's Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers seek to get back in touch with their rural roots — grandpa's or dad's farm — visiting the source of their food fulfills that yearning and can mean more sales for an ag business.
Marketing programs such as the Sweet Treat Trail can make it easier for tourists to plan day trips to several small farm-based businesses by raising awareness and grouping the businesses together based upon commonality.
The Sweet Treat Trail brochure is available online at http://tourcayuga.com/farm-to-table/finger-lakes-sweet-treat-trail/ or by stopping at the Cayuga County Office of Tourism, 131 Genesee St., Auburn, N.Y.
The trail is a year-round self-guided tour, but not all vendors are open year-round. Some, during the winter months especially, prefer to receive a call first.