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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.

Case Study: "Come See What's Cooking in Hancock County"

Hancock County Planning Commission
Hancock County, Maine
1997-1998

The idea for the 1998 "Come See What's Cooking in Hancock County" tour came directly from the results of cultural inventory/survey work undertaken in the area by folklorists Tina Bucuvalas and Tom Carroll. Maine Arts Commission folklorist Kathleen Mundell arranged for these surveys to take place throughout the state, and she always encourages site coordinators who are undertaking an inventory to do a cultural tourism component. Hancock County, a rural farming and fishing area, suggested a tour that would highlight the county's organic farms and local restaurants that buy from local growers and the fishery and often serve or adapt traditional local recipes. This idea fit well with the Maine state tourism division's efforts to draw new tourists to areas of Maine outside the established Bar Harbor coastal corridor.

The Hancock County Planning Commission hired folklorist Millie Rahn to develop the tour, which was billed as "a week-long self-guided food and heritage tour experiencing authentic history and culture from dawn to dark, including the Downeast Folklife Festival." Funders for the event included:

  • Maine Arts Commission, Maine Office of Tourism,
  • Maine Humanities Council,
  • Maine Historic Preservation Community,
  • Fund for Folk Culture/Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Community Folklife Program,
  • and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The tour incorporated local cuisine, (with a different restaurant featured each night); local farming, fishing facilities and markets; local museums; and historical sites. The tour culminated in the first festival of its kind featuring traditional crafts, sardine packing, pie- and lobster stew-making, music, storytelling and dancing.

The tour was a great success locally, for it provided local residents with a structured opportunity to socialize and learn more about their neighbors and neighboring towns whose products or services they knew nothing about. Despite a major article preceding the event in the Boston Globe, good publicity in New England "foodie" networks, an attractive brochure available in state welcome centers, and the ability to make reservations on the internet through the Maine State Office of Tourism website, attendance from outside the state was lower than initially anticipated.

Mundell feels that low attendance was due in part because most events such as this take a couple of years to catch on. In addition, the planning commission, which did not have the administrative infrastructure to continue the festival or build on the tour model, was not able to continue the event when funding for Rahn’s position was not available the second year. In Mundell's view, the short life of the project is unfortunate, and she wonders how many other good projects around the country have not been continued because they did not have a two- or three-year time frame in which to develop.

Perhaps the extra time for a program to "take off" is especially important with small-scale, low-impact, self-guided tourism initiatives such as this, which cannot depend on pre-booked numbers provided by larger-scale group tours. Rahn also points out that "in thinking of a two- to three-year timeline for new projects and events, it is useful to consider the first year as geared to the local community, so that they have a sense of ownership of the event and understand it. Then they can help generate word-of-mouth publicity in following years, when in-state and out-of-state tourists are pursued more specifically."

The very cold temperatures of that particular week, Sept. 27-Oct. 3, no doubt contributed to the less than anticipated turnout. The date was chosen in part to entice visitors in an attempt push the fall "shoulder season." It was also chosen not to conflict with the long-established regional Common Ground Fair, which many Hancock County growers and attractions attend; this event is always held three weeks after Labor Day. In Rahn's estimation, however, the season was pushed a little too far, and were she to plan it again, she would schedule it for earlier in the month of September, when many summer tourists are still in Maine.

While the tour has not continued, several of the farms featured on the tour have continued to hold cultural tours for visitors to the county, and at least one goat farm/bed and breakfast in the county has published a website.

Folklife Sampling Home
Report and Methods
Trends

Case Studies

A1. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area
A3. South Bronx Latin Music Tour

B1. Washington Heritage Tours
B2. Sanpete County, Utah Audio Tour and Booklet

C1. Tennessee Overhill Heritage Project
C2. Kentucky Route 23 Heritage Corridor Project
C3. Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative
C4. "Come See What's Cooking in Hancock County"

D1. Cowboy Poetry Gathering
D2. Louisiana Folklife Festival

E1. The Portland Oregon Visitors Association
E2. "Tours and Detours"

F1. The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina Guidebook
F2. Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance Gathering/Wabanaki Cultural Guide

G1. South Carolina Heritage Corridor Tourism Projects
G2. Delmarva Folklife Initiative