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HERd management: Consider opening up your farm to the public this year

Terri DiNitto Published on 06 February 2014

Females on a farm

There is so much negativity directed at agriculture. Not exactly the sentence I like to use when starting an article, but it’s the truth.

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People have so many misconceptions about agriculture and are so disconnected from it. Just a generation or two ago, somebody’s grandparents or great-grandparents had a farm – and people, for the most part, understood farmers. Not so much any more. So it’s up to the agriculture industry to educate the non-farming community about what we do and how we do it.

And it’s our job to answer the “whys” and the “how comes.” One of the best ways to do that is to have an open house or an agriculture event at your farm or at a farm in your community.

Where I live in Oneida County, we have an event called Farm Fest. It is a one-day event held at a local dairy farm. During the day we invite third-grade to fifth-grade elementary school students from Oneida County schools to attend the event.

They have a schedule where they visit 10 to 15 agriculture “stations.” The stations are everything agriculture, from honey bees to a veterinarian. We also have a safety station manned by the awesome New York State Troopers. The children get to eat lunch on-site and there is milk and ice cream donated by our local processors.

We borrow a refrigerated truck to put lunches and other perishable items in. In the evening, many of the stations stay and others are added for the public portion of the event. We have a local farmer that dishes out strawberry shortcake (free of charge).

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We have 4-H clubs involved, giving pony rides and doing face painting. It gives the 4-H members a chance to work on their communication skills by giving farm tours and answering questions. They do a great job.

Our local FFA chapters are also involved. One chapter is involved in the maple syrup industry, and they have a great display trailer that they bring. Our county sheriff deputies come with their Child ID trailer and take lots of kids’ pictures and fingerprints.

We have a chicken BBQ and other food items available. There are many farmer volunteers who come to the event and are placed in locations around the farm to answer questions. And people have questions. Most are surprised by the answers.

We have had great feedback from the communities where Farm Fest is held. The neighbors are a little more understanding about some of the noise and smells that they might not have understood before.

People are a little more patient with that equipment going down the road. We have people that come every year no matter where Farm Fest is held because they love it. The event is moved to a different dairy farm every two years.

So how hard is it to put on an event like this? Not very! I have a great committee who helps put on this event. There are around 10 of us that meet about three to four times a year. We each have a job that we do for the event. We have a budget of around $5,000.

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We solicit donations from the agribusinesses in our county. They have been fantastic supporters of Farm Fest. Our biggest expenses are the tents, tables and chairs and the portable bathrooms and sinks. Hand washing is very important when you have the public coming to where there are animals.

Make sure you put up a lot of signs reminding people to wash their hands. You will need lots of volunteers, and you will be surprised at the people who are willing to help.

This is a great event to invite your county and state politicians to. Depending on the area, most have never been on a farm. Agriculture in Oneida County is the biggest industry, but many of our politicians had never been on a working dairy farm. The politicians here are very supportive of agriculture and have attended numerous Farm Fest events.

The biggest challenge we have is parking. It helps to have big fields that you can cut the hay off of before the event or open house. Or plant your corn late or even have the event in the fall when you’ve harvested the corn. We’ve had anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people attend the different Farm Fests. That’s a lot of cars and school buses.

I would be happy to share tips and information with anyone who would like to have an open house at their farm or have a bigger event like our Farm Fest! PD

Terri DiNitto

Terri DiNitto
Dairy Producer
Marcy, New York

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