Janet Spear has organized tours of Italian cheese factories, Scottish whiskey distilleries, Irish trout farms and Texas cattle ranches.

The Nobleboro resident and co-owner of Spear’s Vegetable Farm has been leading agricultural tours all over the world as a side business for 15 years. The job involves coordination and planning with the help of fellow tour operators in various locales and time zones across the globe.

Because of the long distances and time differences involved, Spear said choosing the best hotels, restaurants, attractions and events for her clients can be a time-consuming process. And the cost of all those international phone calls adds up quickly, she said.

“Timing is everything when you’re trying to work with a group,” said Spear, owner of Janet’s Agricultural Tours, a home-based business.

That’s why she was thrilled to learn four years ago about the video chat application Skype, which allows anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to make video phone calls to anywhere in the world for free.

Spear said Skype turned out to be the killer app that transformed her tour business by dramatically boosting efficiency while reducing cost.


“I can talk to someone for an hour, and it doesn’t cost me a cent,” she said.

Spear is a member of Agricultural Tour Operators International, “a group of professional tour operators with agribusiness expertise offering agricultural tours, technical programs and conferences,” according to the group’s website, atoi.org. The trade organization has about 80 members in more than 30 countries.

“Agro-tourism” is a popular niche of the travel industry, Spear said, because it offers tourists something beyond the usual sightseeing attractions.

“The people who go on my tours are not necessarily farmers,” she said. “They just want to get off the beaten path.”

Agricultural tours can involve trips to farms, ranches, wineries and distilleries, farmers’ markets, historical and cultural sites, special events, conferences, seminars and other educational events. Not every stop on the tour has to be agriculture-related, Spear said, but it is always the major theme.

In addition to lining up a string of tours, the organizer also has to map out where the group’s members will travel each day, their mode of transportation, where they will eat and where they will sleep.


Spear said she works with tour operators in the countries or states where the tours will take place to choose destinations and accommodations, a process that involves a good deal of research and vetting.

“I tell them I want a diversified tour,” she said.

Spear said she uses Skype in conjunction with email to discuss potential destinations and events, exchange documents, finalize choices and build each tour piece by piece. It can take months, she said.

A typical tour occurs over multiple days and can span more than one country. In October, Spear organized an 11-day tour to Scotland and Ireland that included visits to the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, the Daftmill whiskey distillery, Goatsbridge Trout Farms, the Cobh Heritage Centre, Blarney Castle and other historical and natural sites. The tour even included a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

In today’s era of instant gratification, Spear said Skype allows her to operate more efficiently and meet clients’ expectations for quick and responsive communication without costing her a fortune.

“That is the best thing since sliced bread,” she said.

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