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Not your average farm tour

Emily Caldwell Published on 05 June 2009

Tricia Adams and Carol Hoffman of Kar-Dale Acres in Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania, invite about 300 to 400 schoolchildren to their farm each year.

They often start out with a history of the farm and the family, explaining how Carol and husband Dale began farming on their own in 1972. They then guide children around their 400-acre farm, now operated by Carol, Dale, Tricia and her brothers, Keith, Brad and Josh. With their Holstein herd of 680 cows and 580 youngstock, the Hoffman family has plenty to keep a tour lively.

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A day at Kar-Dale-Acres
During a typical farm tour, Tricia leads the group through the barns, where she’ll explain the cows’ feed and bedding. She also talks about the benefits of manure and how the farm is environmentally friendly.

Next up are the dry cow and hospital barns, where Tricia explains the life cycle of a cow. She also takes this opportunity to explain that if their farm uses antibiotics to treat their cows, that milk is separated from the rest of the herd’s.

After the barns comes the milking parlor, where children learn the Hoffmans’ cows are milked three times a day and the milk is stored in a bulk tank. Tricia is also sure to discuss how the milk goes through many safety and quality assurance tests before being bottled and delivered to grocery stores.

Another stop on the tour is the offices, where Tricia explains how their family has incorporated technology into making their farm run more efficiently. Last but not least, children visit with the baby calves, which Tricia says is always a highlight for participants.

When the tour is completed, children must wash their hands before receiving a dairy snack and promotional items.

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Responsibility to educate
Tricia and Carol have been giving these tours for the past 15 years. Even though they live in a rural area, Tricia says many neighbors and people in the community have little understanding of agriculture and farming practices.

“Many of today’s youth are so far removed from the farm,” Carol says. “We feel it is important for children to learn about agriculture.”

Daughter Tricia agrees and believes that farmers need to be the spokespeople.

“Farmers have a responsibility to educate,” Tricia says. “They are the most credible source for spreading the message of a good, wholesome product.”

Tricia and Carol also believe in explaining the differences in dairy production methods in a positive manner.

“We’re not organic, but we don’t bash organic practices,” Tricia explains. “I think farmers need to support each other and support agriculture in general.”

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Be prepared
One of the best ways farm tour-givers can accomplish this is by being prepared to answer questions and address misconceptions.

“Farmers need to stay positive and show why their farm is unique,” Tricia recommends. “Your actions will speak for themselves.”

Tricia also believes it’s important for farmers to be “proactive but not defensive” when it comes to common misconceptions.

Other advice from Carol and Tricia:

• Take security seriously by having participants wear plastic boots

• Make sure that the farm and the animals are clean and presentable

• Plan a route of the farm

• Keep content simple and easy to understand

• Allow plenty of time for the calf barn, as it is a favorite for most children

• Have kids remove boots and wash hands after the tour

• Offer a dairy snack; ice cream is always a big hit!

Not just for kids
Although most of the tour participants are ages 5 through 15, Tricia says Kar-Dale-Acres is also open to older youth and adults. In fact, the farm hosted a legislative tour in 2004 that educated about 30 industry and political leaders, including state representatives and Pennsylvania Senator Joe Scarnati.

Tricia says the farm plans to host some local commissioners this spring. Church groups and families also request tours. The family especially enjoys educating the people next door.

“We love having the opportunity to explain to neighbors why we’re out on the road with tractors and spreading manure,” Tricia says. “It’s great to be able to tell them what we do and why we do it.”

A whole new audience
In addition to in-person farm tours, Tricia has uploaded two virtual tours through the website, www.kardaleacres.com. The first tour features slides that Tricia and Carol presented at the 2008 Women in Dairy Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The slides walk the audience through different aspects of Kar-Dale Acres and also offer advice to fellow tour-givers. The second tour features photos and information about the farm’s calf barn and calf-raising procedures.

Tricia and her brothers have future plans for their website too.

“We’d like to put some more presentations on there, including information about dairy technology such as computers and transponders,” Tricia says. “We also want to discuss milk collection and how all milk is safe because of farming procedures.”

The Hoffman family hopes that even if a group can’t physically be at their facility, they will still be able to learn about Kar-Dale-Acres and about the dairy industry.

Mutually beneficial
Carol and Tricia put effort into giving farm tours because they believe they are benefitting just as much as the children are.

“We love being able to show children that farming has come a long way since their great-grandparents were farming,” Tricia says. “It’s a modern business. We’re here because we want to be profitable but also because we love our animals.”

The family is beginning to notice that some youth touring their farm today also attended tours as pre-school children.

“They actually remember touring our farm,” Tricia says of the older youth. “It’s great to see how they retain the information and how they have a better appreciation for farming.”

For fellow tour-givers trying to duplicate Kar-Dale-Acres’ success, Tricia’s words of advice are simple:

“Just make sure the children walk away with information and a lot of fun." PD

Emily Caldwell is a freelance writer from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

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