We have a Georgia public fishing area a mile from the farm. There they have an Environmental Education Center that does a phenomenal job teaching kids (and adults) about wetlands, wildlife, and the environment.
I occasionally call the teacher that runs the center for advice on touring groups here at our farm. We just started touring small groups through our Robotic Observation Center and Farm Trolley Ride. We are novices at giving tours for a fee, and we want our guest to have the best possible experience while visiting our farm.
Getting advice from teachers like the one at the center next door has been invaluable for us to anticipate the things we needed to do to prepare for tours. I have known this teacher for years (she taught me science her very first year teaching). She is one of the people who influenced me to want to share our family’s farm with other people.
In a way, we are all teachers. Over the years, we teach our own kids and our friends as we talk about our farm. By opening up to the public, our classroom just got a whole lot larger, and we are now talking directly to our consumers. This gives us an opportunity to show a modern dairy and the level of expertise it takes to manage it.
Our tours focus on technology, sustainability, cow comfort, and animal care. We dispel a lot of preconceived ideas about farms and farmers. Our guests are often surprised that the majority of our staff and management are female. They also are surprised by the fact that the cows set their own schedules and voluntarily visit robots when they wish to be milked. They ask a lot of questions about cow care and love seeing them comfortably laying on “beach sand,” getting free massages at the cow brushes, and are amazed when we talk about our “cow pedicure” (hoof trimming) table.
Confucius said, “If you plan for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.” The older I get, the more I think we need to look further down the road. Take the opportunity to teach about the great products that come from our farms. Show how we protect the environment, care for our cows, and provide high tech jobs in our communities.
Think about the great teachers that impacted you and why they influenced your life. Try to be like them and be the teacher that makes a difference.
Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. Their “Father and Daughter Dairy Together” column appears every other Thursday on HD Notebook. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.