The Zala-Termálvölgye Local Action Group (LAG) created the Zala Valley Open Farms in 2018 on the basis of the LEADER programme which aim is to support local producers and tourism services. The LEADER supported by EARDF in Rural Development Program was combined with AGRISHORT Croatian-Hungarian INTERREG project in order to get acknowledge on SFSC by advisors. The "Zala Valley Open Farms" is a network of producers who undertake to open their farms and food processing plants for customers also provide high value added food products. The preparation of new rural network started in 2013 and during 5 years the LAG was facilitating the local farmers for cooperation, helping local SME’s and stakeholders to identify their local values and to find their common objectives. The network belongs to farmers and service providers however it is operated by the LAG to ensure its sustainability.
In order to build and operate this network the LAG provides for members:
- common marketing image (logo, rollups, signs, image films, etc.);
- a well-designed internet platform + smartphone app. including push notifications + social media platforms where producers can market their products, give information about their opening times, special events, offers;
- special, larger scale events for wider marketing of the system;
- a quality assurance system and coaching (with internal governance and decision making) for creating adequate environment at the farm to be able to accept visitors (toilets, hygiene, aesthetics, etc.;
- possibility for social learning, networking, building local/regional identity for producers;
- training in different subjects (regulation, rural tourism, food safety, social network, marketing, project management etc.).
The business model is easy: Visitors can come to visit and buy products not only by appointment, but also during the regular opening times and at special organised events. Thus, customers can actually see how and where the local products are produced and get to know all the local members.
The LAG is, at the moment, the main engine/organiser of the programme and turned it into the backbone of local development strategy. (Only network members can apply for business support from the EU/state funded local development programme). Nevertheless, on the long run, entrepreneurs/producers should take charge and the programme should be sustainable even without the professional and financial input of the LAG.
The key innovation of this programme is the way of coaching the stakeholders to ensure their cooperation. The disputes are common in the group and it should be also taken into consideration that Hungarian farmers are afraid of cooperation due to historical bases. That’s why the LAG tries to tackle the human circumstances to sustain the peaceful networking. It is also evident that farmers suffer from lack of time, source and knowledge which is mitigate by operation work by the LAG.