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5 things to do before opening your barn doors to the public

Callie Curley for Progressive Dairyman Published on 10 June 2016

June Dairy Month is a time for many dairy producers to open up their barn doors and educate the public through tours and community events. Some have even made it into a business. Whether you host an occasional elementary school tour or promote your farm as a tourist destination, there are a few things you should consider.

As more and more farmers are inviting community members to experience their operations, learn about where their food comes from and create an opportunity for conversation surrounding animal agriculture, dairy producers must also be aware of the hazards with which visitors may come in contact.

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“While it is important to remember that we can never eliminate all of the risks associated with inviting people onto the farm, there are many things we can do to reduce the risks involved,” Carrie Klumb, MPH, Minnesota Department of Health, advised in a recent webinar entitled “Agritourism: The Next Frontier in Agriculture,” sponsored by AgriSafe Network.

Producers who are interested in inviting members of the public to visit a working farm are encouraged to consider the following elements:

Safety precautions

Those involved in production agriculture will not be surprised to learn farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. Injuries sustained in an agricultural setting are often more severe than non-agricultural injuries.

That being said, members of the public who visit a working farm for a corn maze, petting zoo or other event may not have safety on their minds.

By taking the initiative to remove unnecessary risks from the environment beforehand, producers are helping to ensure every experience on the farm is a positive one, allowing visitors to enjoy their visit and learn about farming in a safe environment.

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Before visitors set foot on the farm, there are several safety precautions to be taken by producers. Klumb suggests producers begin by identifying potential safety hazards on and around the farm.

These hazards may include electric fences, grain bins, silos, manure pits, haylofts and, of course, the animals on the farm.

By removing keys from machinery and vehicles on the farm, storing unsafe equipment in a locked area and controlling which animals are in direct contact with visitors, many unnecessary risks can be avoided.

Be sure to post signs with safety precautions and, when possible, speak with your visitors about safety on the farm. Visitors should never be allowed to explore the farm unattended or outside of a designated area.

Responsibilities

Klumb noted five key responsibilities producers should consider before organizing an event or allowing individuals to visit the farm.

1. Keep visitors safe from injury. By following the safety precautions listed above, producers can help to lessen the risk of injury by machinery, animals or other unsafe areas of the farm. Farms are encouraged to control which areas are accessible to visitors by posting signs, closing gates and locking storage rooms, machinery sheds and other buildings not included in the agritourism event.

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2. Know the risk of a foodborne illness. Foodborne illness is not a risk to be taken lightly. While serving hot dogs or hot cocoa to visitors during an event may seem like the hospitable thing to do, failing to procure the proper license or meet food safety standards could turn a carefully planned and beautifully carried-out day into a complete and total nightmare.

3. Reduce the risk of visitors getting sick from animal contact on your farm. Zoonotic diseases (those which can be passed between animals and humans) are an important risk to keep in mind when planning an agritourism event.

Ringworm, influenza, salmonella and E. coli are just a few of the diseases that pose potential threats to both humans and animals in an agritourism venue. Producers can make many strides in reducing the risk of disease transfer by:

  • Providing hand-washing stations

  • Creating clear barriers between areas where food is served and where animals are housed

  • Posting proper signage asking visitors to wash their hands before and after both eating or drinking and interacting with animals

4. Provide visitors with a great experience. Amid the paperwork, planning, cleaning and rearranging of the farm in preparation for the “big day,” agritourism experiences should be safe, engaging and positive for the visitors who attend.

By planning ahead and preparing properly, producers can help to ensure visitors walk away with a positive impression of production agriculture and a newfound respect for the farming profession.

5. Protect your assets. Have you alerted your insurance company to your agritourism plan? Is there additional coverage now required to cover visitors to the farm? These are two of the most important questions you may ask in the agritourism planning process.

Producers should also keep in mind the state regulatory agencies which preside over different aspects of an event. This is an important factor to consider, as the protocols for preparing, storing and serving products differ greatly in various situations.

At the end of the day, the agritourism venue is held responsible for any protocol not followed that leads to injury or illness of visitors or animals.

To determine whether or not your agritourism operation requires a USDA license for agritourism, visit www.aphis.usda.gov and click on “Animal Care.”

Benefits of agritourism

While there are certainly a wide array of safety precautions and responsibilities to be considered before diving into the agritourism market, many benefits await those willing to take on the precautions and procedures involved.

Aside from an increased income generated from charging an admission fee and selling food and beverages, producers who prepare appropriately and foster a relationship with community members who visit the farm are often rewarded with a respect and appreciation from those who otherwise would not be aware of the goings-on of the farm operation.

The key to fostering this relationship? Maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment for visitors to experience life on the farm.  PD

Those interested in learning more should visit AgriSafe Network and answer the registration questions in order to view the webinar.

Callie Curley is a communications student at Penn State University

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