As we know less than 1% of Americas population has direct connections to agriculture production. Therefore many producers will be opening up their farms to have conversations with the public about how and where their food is produced. In preparation for such an event it is important to establish some protocols prior to the event.
Why care about biosecurity?
It is important for producers to keep disease risk at a minimum when hosting open houses or developing agro-tourism businesses. Educating attendees about the need for disease prevention will help minimize participant’s feelings of inconvenience regarding a farm’s biosecurity protocols. Determine high to low risk areas for biosecurity and whether or not participants will be able to partake in those areas or what protocols will need to be followed if they are allowed into certain areas. Communicate ahead of time that participants with dogs or other animals will not be allowed unto your operation. Inform participants ahead of time that if they have travelled internationally within a week they will not be able to participate.
If possible park visitors in a designated location near the farm where people can park safely and walk onto the farm. If the location is not within walking distance provide transportation and shuttle people from the parking area to the farm. At minimum, visitor’s vehicles should not cross traffic with where farm vehicles typically drive. Encourage clean clothes and rubber boots while utilizing a disinfectant foot bath or provide plastic booties.
Is signage and welcoming guests important?
Signage is important to WELCOME people to the farm along with where to park, where to register, where bathrooms are located, where they are allowed to roam as well as providing information to inform visitors about the farm and products produced. Establishing a controlled entry point unto the farm will help guide traffic and serve as a welcoming spot for participants. Once guests have arrived it is important to provide a friendly greeting, share the farms mission and preview what they will see throughout the day. Take time to inform them where the restrooms and washing stations are located, whether or not food or refreshments will be provided and where they are and are not allowed on the farm. It is important to not allow participants into areas that are a safety risk such as silage pile areas, manure pits, ponds, machine storage areas, where male in tacked animals are housed or into maternity pens.
What other considerations should be thought about?
Guests who may visit the farm and have disabilities need to be informed ahead of time if there will be considerable walking or that the terrain may be challenging. If possible it might be best to provide seating or conduct the tour with transportation via a shuttle or wagon. If you are pulling a wagon make sure to have an appropriate sized tractor pulling the wagon and that the wagon and tractor are in proper operating order. Insure that safety equipment such as safety chains, slow moving vehicle signs, proper lighting and guards are intact. Providing a ramp/platform for handicap access for people to get on and off of the wagon will be appreciated. Make sure the tractor operator is trained and fully aware of how to operate the equipment safely. Utilizing a portable speaker system will help tour participants hear the message you are trying to share over the noises on the farm or if it is a windy day. You will want to have access to a restroom at a minimum and/or consider renting one that is handicap accessible.
We live in the day of social media and people love to post “selfies”, so we need to make sure the farm is presentable. Let people know if it is ok or not to take pictures. Consider having an area where they can have staged pictures such as by a tractor or in front of animals or in the milking parlor. Being friendly and accessible to your guests will help create the positive farm experience you want them to remember. Make sure all employees and people working or helping that day also are informed and have a welcoming attitude.
Consider sanitation needs of guests. Having washing stations available is essential especially if food or drink will be provided. Using a big water cooler with water, soap, paper towels and garbage can serve as a make shift washing station. Do you have enough garbage cans available and strategically located?
Take time to put the family dog(s) away, take the keys out of equipment, turn off electric fences, put medicines away and properly store any fertilizers or pest-control products. Make sure a first-aid kit is stocked and that fire extinguisher filled and both are accessible.
Check with your insurance provider to make sure you have the appropriate insurance coverage. Your insurance provider may suggest that you have premise liability (this covers the farm in the event of an accident or physical injury to a visitor) and product liability (provides coverage against injury or illness resulting from ingesting farm products) insurance. These may be in addition to commercial to commercial general liability which combines liability insurance with property insurance.
Taking the time to prepare for a farm tour will result in a positive experience for those attending your farm but will also help build relationships with consumers of our products.