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Seeing is believing: Make it a goal to host a farm tour this year

Jessica Ziehm Published on 11 June 2014

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Ever get frustrated about the disconnect between farmers and consumers? Why can’t they trust us to do our job? Why do they have to believe everything they hear from our adversaries?

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As dairy farmers, we are in the driver’s seat to help solve that problem – and it’s quite simple. We can invite the public onto our farm for them to learn first-hand about what we do and why we do it.

Farm tours have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to influence a consumer’s opinion about production agriculture – because seeing is believing. As consumers become more and more removed from the farm, it becomes imperative for us as farmers to provide consumers with good information about our farms and farm practices.

There are a number of different ways we can reach out to the public: We can place an advertisement on TV; we can write a letter to the editor; we can start a Facebook page; we can talk to the local chamber of commerce; we can do lots of different things to educate them.

But how trustworthy are those options? True transparency is the key to building trust, and the best way to be transparent is to allow the public to see for themselves and to talk to a real, live farmer: you.

Over the past year, the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC) and the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council (ADADC) have been working to help dairy farmers be more confident and comfortable in opening their barn doors to the public.

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We trained more than 100 dairy farmers across the state by offering a short, four-hour workshop that provided practical guidance and personal experiences from a panel of veteran farm tour hosts, and we equipped participants with promotional giveaways including signs, pencils, coloring books and more.

Much to our surprise, roughly half of the workshop participants had never opened their farm up to the public, not even to a kindergarten class. Despite that statistic, farmers came eager and ready to learn the skills needed to effectively and safely invite the public onto their farms.

The workshops, sponsored in part by New York soybean checkoff funds, addressed different types of tours, such as private tours or those with a defined or limited audience versus tours that are open to the public. Private tours tend to be smaller groups, require less structure but allow for more personal interaction.

Farm tour checklist

Public events can be sizeable, both in the amount of planning and work but also in the number of people you can reach. Both types of tours are beneficial and pose a real opportunity to enlighten a consumer about modern agricultural practices and potentially change a consumer’s opinion of dairy farming forever.

“Hosting a tour for the first time can be overwhelming. It’s important to tap any and all resources you have, such as your local dairy checkoff organization,” says Beth Meyer, director of communications with ADADC.

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“We have consumer-tested messaging on a variety of topics, which can help you feel more confident in answering questions – from the very basic ‘Do brown cows give chocolate milk?’ to the more complex issues farmers may face.”

With the abundance of social media, there is also an opportunity to provide a glimpse of our farms virtually. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are all excellent tools in reaching a broad audience with positive messages and images about your farm, but face-to-face communication still trumps all of them.

We’re at a turning point in agriculture where farm tours and industry promotion is no longer just a feel-good activity that can be left to the dairy princess alone. Today, promotion is about preserving our freedom to farm, and everyone has a role to play.

Every time the dairy industry promotes itself, we are proactively taking a role in educating the public about how milk is produced. Consumers who have visited a dairy farm and walked in a farmer’s shoes, even if only for a couple hours, are more apt to support our business rather than fight us.

Hosting a farm tour is not rocket science, but proper planning is critical to ensuring a positive experience for all. This article includes a checklist you can use to help organize a memorable visit to your farm. I challenge all of you: Find some time this summer to open your barn doors and allow others to learn more about our amazing industry.

I think you will all be pleasantly surprised at the response you will get from your visitors. You may even be inspired to do more farm tours. If you have any questions or need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to ask for assistance. Good luck! PD

NYAAC is a farmer-founded and -funded organization that strives to enhance the public’s understanding of and appreciation for animal agriculture and modern farm practices. ADADC is the dairy promotion organization in New York funded by dairy farmer checkoff dollars and works to increase demand for domestically produced dairy products.

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