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To be successful in agritourism, you need a passion for people

Progressive Dairyman Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 11 June 2014
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A thriving agritourism venture has many elements. The logistics in physically moving people through a farm requires proper timing, safety measures and coordination around daily farm chores.Biosecurity needs to be a consideration, and those giving the tour need to be well-versed in dairy key messages. But our dairy tourism experts agreed on one characteristic essential to anyone opening up their farm: You have to like people.

Common sense would dictate, if you’re dealing with the public, you must generally enjoy being around others. But these individuals go above and beyond in forming relationships with tour participants and providing them with an experience they’ll want to return for again and again.

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For Jeff Swanson of Country Dairy in New Era, Michigan, that means no questions are dumb questions.

“You’re dealing with people who are, for the most part, unfamiliar with farming but think they know a lot about farming because they’ve read a couple of articles,” he says.

jeff swanson

Swanson is knowledgeable about an array of agriculture sectors, having spent his younger years working on hog, fruit and vegetable farms. For 10 years, he managed a living history farm. He came to Country Dairy in 2005 to develop the tour program the owners had established in 1983 when they also began bottling milk.

Unlike Swanson, Debora Lobb, who manages the farm tour program at Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pennsylvania, had no prior ag experience before coordinating tours. The position offered flexible hours for the work-from-home mom, and her children enjoy participating in tours as well.

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Now more than three years into the role, Lobb says she is continually impressed at the amount of work that goes into the 1,400-cow operation and how much the employees genuinely enjoy it.

Her novelty to the industry allows her to anticipate questions from tour participants and have responses ready. Two years ago, Kreider Farms began phasing out tail docking. This means that tour participants are now seeing full-tailed cows in the milking herd alongside older cows with docked tails. The policy is to address that issue upfront.

“We explain off the bat that tail docking has been phased out, but when it was done, it was done for food safety and worker safety purposes,” Lobb says.

Wisconsin dairy farmer Tina Hinchley agrees on being open and honest, especially with tough issues. They do dock tails at their 110-cow dairy, and she even demonstrates how a castrating band works by placing one on her finger.

Tina and Duane hinchely “I’ll say, ‘It’s not hurting me. It is clamping down, but in time, the circulation would cut off, and my finger would dry up and fall off,’” Hinchley says, who has been providing tours for more than 17 years. “We dock tails for the safety of our cows.”

Maintaining a web presence and social media accounts for these dairy tours also means opening themselves up for farming questions via email. Swanson says he receives “a slew” of questions through email on a regular basis, and many require lengthy responses to answer the senders’ questions properly.

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Many of those senders do seem to have an anti-agriculture agenda, but he’s found he can almost always defuse the situation by inviting them out for a tour. While only a few emailers have taken him up on the offer, he did have one positive outcome.

A few years ago, an editor for the local newspaper began emailing Swanson.

“She was ... very ... prickly,” Swanson says carefully. “She definitely came out to the farm with a bias.”

By the time she left the tour an hour-and-a-half later, Swanson could tell she saw the farm differently.

“She wrote just a fantastic article. It was amazing to me that she ‘got it,’” he says. “It changed her perception, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Those “light bulb” moments of understanding, particularly in children and parents, is what keeps Hinchley continuing tours year after year.

“I’ll explain to groups that these cows make more milk than our calves can drink,” Hinchley says. “I’ll ask, ‘Who is going to drink the rest of that milk?’ It takes them a little time, but then the kids respond, ‘Us! Us! We drink the milk.’ Then I tell them they’re right and say, ‘Whatever you buy at the grocery store, realize that the farmer is really glad that you’re buying it. That’s something they raised just for you.’”

Debora Lobb

All three agritourism gurus agree that keeping in touch with tour participants, particularly return visitors, is a rewarding element of the job.

Lobb makes it a point to send a thank-you note to every visitor who comes to Kreider Farms. She often receives photos in return, and one in particular sticks with her.

“We heard back from a family last year who had spent three days at Hershey Park, and they asked their 5-year-old, ‘What was your favorite part of the trip?’ He said, ‘Kreider Farms,’” Lobb says. “That says a lot for us. I mean, you’re at Hershey Park – the most exciting place in Pennsylvania – and his favorite thing was the farm tour.”

Hinchley recognizes that these tours have the power to inspire.

“When we radiate our addiction to agriculture, it inspires other people,” she says. “These kids want to be farmers when they’re done with the tour. They want to join 4-H and FFA, even though they don’t know what those acronyms mean. They just want to do what my kids can do.” PD

PHOTOS
TOP: Jeff Swanson at Country Dairy.

MIDDLE: Tina and Duane Hinchley with the farm sign at the end of their road.

BOTTOM: Debora Lobb at Kreider Farms. Photos courtesy of Jeff Swanson, Tina Hinchley and Debora Lobb.

emily caldwell

Emily Caldwell
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

See it for yourself:

Kreider Farms
Debora Lobb
Manheim, Pennsylvania
(717) 665-5039
Email

Fast facts

  • Kreider Farms hosts 10,000 visitors each year.
  • The 90-minute tour includes a bus tour of freestall barn, better known as “cow palace,” and a birds-eye observation of rotary milking parlor.

You’d be surprised to learn that ...
Kreider Farms hosts several international groups each year. Tour guides have an added challenge when providing farm information to a translator, who then relays the information to the group.

Country Dairy
Jeff Swanson
New Era, Michigan
(231) 861-4636 x119
Email

Fast facts

  • Country Dairy hosts 15,000 visitors each year.
  • Visitors tour the farm on wagons. The tour begins at a visitor center where an introductory video is shown. Tour participants are able to experience both the farm facilities and bottling plant.

You’d be surprised to learn that ...
Every tour guide at Country Dairy receives not only safety training and a detailed overview of the farm, but also customer service training.

Hinchley Farm
Tina Hinchley
Cambridge, Wisconsin
(608) 764-5090
Email

Fast facts

  • Tina Hinchley hosts about 8,000 visitors, mostly school groups, each year, along with nearly 4,000 families from all over the globe.
  • Hinchley believes in providing visitors with a well-rounded ag education. Along with learning about dairy, visitors can experience chickens, geese, goats, lambs, pigs and a variety of crops, depending on the season.

You’d be surprised to learn that .. .
After inviting her insurance agent out to the farm to take a tour, Hinchley received a better rate for providing coverage of tourism activities.

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