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The do’s and don’ts of hosting a farm tour

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 10 June 2016
Five producers offer up tips on hosting tours

Whether hosting your child’s class trip, an annual dairy breakfast or a steady stream of visitors, the idea of opening your farm to the public can be overwhelming.

At the Wisconsin Ag Women’s Summit in Madison, Wisconsin, this spring, five farmers with seasoned agritourism experience discussed what works well and not-so-well when it comes to opening up their farms.



Sandy Larson, dairy production manager at Larson Acres in Evansville, Wisconsin, moderated the producer panel. She works with the milking crew and handles employee relations and public relations for her family’s 2,900-cow dairy.

Tina Hinchley milks 120 registered Holsteins and farms 2,500 acres with her husband and daughter. For the past 18 years, she has hosted farm tours for schools, families and international guests through Hinchley’s Dairy Farm Tours in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Alan and Angie Treinen welcome 20,000 visitors each year to Treinen Farm Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch at their 200-acre farm in Lodi, Wisconsin. They offer a corn maze, hayrides, games and an 18-acre pumpkin patch during open farm weekends in the fall. In addition, the Treinens host school tours and private tours.

Nodji VanWychen is a third-generation cranberry grower at Wetherby Cranberry Company, Warrens, Wisconsin. She hosts tour groups, school trips, VIP tours and an annual fall harvest day.

Here is a list of do’s and don’ts as recommended by the farmers on the panel:


DO: Greet the group

VanWychen hosts all of the tours on her farm. “They want to know the farmer themselves. They want to hear from the expert,” she said.

Every tour Hinchley hosts is a guided tour. When her guests exit the bus or vehicle, she brings them into one of their farm buildings and explains they are on a working farm; even the cats are working and should not be picked up.

She lets them know where the bathrooms are and stresses the importance of walking feet (not running) while on the farm.

DON’T: Let them wander without fencing off areas

Most tour groups come to the Treinens’ farm for a particular activity. Upon greeting the group, they take them on the structured part of the tour. However, the rest of their tours are self-guided.

Since they have people who are not under direct supervision while on the farm, Angie Treinen said they put up caution signage and fence off areas to keep people from areas where they shouldn’t go.


DON’T: Bring a bad attitude

“First impressions are everything,” VanWychen said, noting she focuses on being enthusiastic and putting any problems occurring on the farm that day aside while a tour is in progress.

“When that bus pulls into that driveway, forget everything that’s happening in your life. These people do not know that. They are expecting to get the highest-quality tour,” she added.

DO: Find ways to incorporate extra messages

While on the 30-minute drive down to the marsh, VanWychen gives a family history, talks about how their farm is friendly to wildlife and the environment, and shares the health benefits of cranberries.

Hinchley said 50 percent of the people on her two-hour guided tours are parents, so she talks about manure application and GMOs when on a hayride in the fields, ethanol while passing grain bins, cage-free and antibiotics when visiting her children’s 4-H chickens and safe milk in the milk house.

She also has signs that promote the dairy industry and its products placed throughout her farm.

DON’T: Hand out take-home items at the start of the tour

“I don’t want to do a gift shop and have money tied up in stuff,” Hinchley said. She gives everyone a pencil with their logo and brochures provided by dairy, poultry, pork and beef associations once they finish the tour.

“If you put brochures out, they will grab them first thing and leave them all over the farm,” she said.

Hinchley avoids balloons because they can be a choking hazard but will give the kids a stamp on their hand if they drink all of their milk. Stickers and temporary tattoos are also well-liked giveaway items.

Larson also likes to give visitors something with their farm name on it and will work with the local milk marketing board to get maps of cheese plants for the teachers and coloring books for students.

The Treinens provide coupons to children on field trips so they can come back another time.

DO: Take reservations

“Everything is by reservation,” Hinchley said. “I’m a farmer, and the farm comes first before tours.”

The loyal schools she works with will book a year in advance, whereas Treinen said her experience is schools like to book in September for an October visit.

Hinchley said she does not require a deposit but has learned a lot of schools will want to pay with credit cards, so it is important to be prepared to take that form of payment.

DON’T: Fully trust a booking software program

The Treinens use a booking software program which allows interested parties to look on their website and select the date they want to come. However, they do have one of their employees regularly review the digital entries to make sure a double booking doesn’t occur. “Don’t just let the computer do the booking,” Treinen said.

DO: Charge, if you mean to make it a business

The Treinens price each activity separately for their open farm weekends. For field trips, they charge $6 per student for one activity or $10 for two activities.

For groups of 10 or more, Hinchley charges $7 per child and $9 per adult. For smaller groups, it is an extra dollar per person. On weekends, the price is $10 per child and $15 for adults.

In the off season, VanWychen offers tours by reservation only at $5 for adults and $3 for students. During harvest, she charges $300 per busload, regardless of the number of people on the bus. Last year, she started offering VIP tours in an old Suburban that seats up to seven at $100 per carload.

VanWychen’s public harvest day has been free for the past 20 years, but now the crowd has grown so large she needs to rent people-moving wagons and buses for the day, so she plans to charge $5 per person or $3 for children 12 and under this fall.

Since agritourism isn’t part of the business model for Larson Acres, Larson said their farm tours are currently free.

DON’T: Overcharge schools

Hinchley said she is willing to work with teachers to keep the farm visits affordable, as she knows their cost for bus transportation tends to rise each year.

VanWychen offers free tours in the off season for the local school district.

DO: Give them an activity

“You have to have something hands-on for people to do,” VanWychen said. “They want to get involved in the process.”

She has everyone take a step into the cranberry bed to learn cranberries do not grow in water. They can also pick a berry, open it up and see the four air chambers that allow it to float to facilitate harvest.

On the public harvest day, she provides sets of hip boots so people can walk into a bog with floating berries for a photo opportunity like the popular Ocean Spray commercials.

DON’T: Overcomplicate the activity

“Anything you did as a child that you played and loved doing, they are going to love,” Alan Treinen said, noting their popular activities are a big pile of sand, roping dummies, ring toss and a hay fort.

Larson lets the children walk into a clean, empty calf hutch to see things from a calf’s point of view.

“Anything going on at the farm can be a special event,” Hinchley said. They will pick rocks, catch bugs in the hayfield, watch a cow calving or talk about what needs to be done with a down cow.

DO: Protect yourself

All of the farms have liability insurance. The Treinens set up an LLC for the agritourism business, and it has a separate insurance policy from their farm. In addition, they post liability signage with wording provided by a local tourism organization.

Hinchley has signage up for safety precautions, her photography policy and hand washing. She has hand-sanitizing stations around the farm, fire extinguishers in every building and spray-painted any ledges with bright orange paint. She makes sure every cat is vaccinated and the dogs are tied up when people arrive.

DON’T: Not invite people

“I don’t want to scare people from having groups on their farm. In my area, I’m the only one. If there is no one doing it, how can we educate people on it?” VanWychen said.  PD

PHOTO: Five producers offer up tips they’ve learned from decades of hosting tours of their various farming operations. They are, left to right, Angie and Alan Treinen, Nodji VanWychen, Tina Hinchley and Sandy Larson. Photo by Karen Lee.

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