Tours and on-farm events are awesome ways to educate consumers about dairy farming and the nutrition dairy products can provide. However, hosting guests regularly takes a lot of work, day in and day out, to keep the farm looking its best and ensure visitor safety.
The four farms in our December 2020 Round Table article, “Agritourism adds to their business model,” have created successful agritourism businesses on their dairies. In some cases, that meant building new facilities or remodeling existing ones. For example, the Kuehnert family (pictured) from Fort Wayne, Ind., renovated an old bedding shed to create their Homestead event center, which can be used to host events year-round. They also hire 20 paid employees and oversee many volunteers in order to run their Kuehnert Fall Festival each year.
Read on to see what changes these four families made to accommodate their agritourism venture and learn more about each farm in the December issue.
What changes were made to your farm to support your agritourism business?
Hansen’s Dairy, Hudson, Iowa: We built a tour center and farm store in 2012. Besides that, we haven’t changed any other facilities or our herd management. Tour guides are trained, and they prevent problems by telling visitors up front where they need to be careful. We don’t worry too much about biosecurity as visitors are not walking where cows walk, and we don’t get a lot of other dairy farmers visiting.
We had some trouble with adding insurance for agritourism — oddly enough, it wasn’t for liability coverage, but for worker’s compensation. It took some convincing of underwriters to realize that our farm tour guides should not be classified under “amusement park” workers, who have a very high rate for coverage, and instead list them as dairy farm laborers, who have a lower rate (despite having, in my opinion, a more dangerous occupation).
Kuehnert Dairy Farm, Fort Wayne, Ind.: We always kept a very tidy and clean farm, and we have not made any special accommodations to current structures for the festival specifically. Over the years, we have remodeled existing structures that are no longer being utilized by the farm for the festival. One example is the old calf barn, which is now our entrance building. Another is a moved and remodeled sawdust storage barn, which is now the Homestead event barn. A public restroom facility was built in 2019, which was required for commercial use of the Homestead barn for events year-round.
Adequate parking is huge, and over the past few years, we had to be creative in finding ways to park a lot of cars safely in a not very big space. We now use a hayfield adjacent to the festival area, which works out great.
Our festival is in a designated area of the farm. Guests are not allowed outside of this area, and overall, people are very respectful of this. The hayride farm tours allow people to safely view our farm while maintaining appropriate biosecurity. We have handwashing stations located throughout the festival area and also an abundance of hand sanitizing stations. We have a separate event and festival liability policy.
North Harbor Dairy, Sackets Harbor, N.Y.: Some buildings have been remodeled over the years, and several buildings, including our visitor’s center and The Gathering Barn, were built new. The old barn that was part of the farm’s original homestead was remodeled into a stable, and then in 2015, we added on a new, modern stable facility.
Our barns were all built so that our dairy tour wagon can drive through the feeding lanes, including the calf barn. Visitors are not allowed to walk through the dairy.
The appearance and care for our facilities is important, as we have the public here on a daily basis. We strive to promote a positive image for the dairy industry. We also have an extensive insurance liability policy.
Roden Echo Valley, West Bend, Wis.: In the winter of 2014, we built a 30-by-50 heated building where Farm Camp takes place and tour groups eat ice cream. Throughout the years, we have built a corn pit mini-harvester, tire mountain sandbox, and petting zoo area.
The agritourism business is strategically placed in a “safer” area on the farm to avoid the heavy traffic areas around the farm, so we didn’t have to make any changes. Roden Barnyard Adventures has its own insurance policy, separate from the farm.
How do you balance daily dairy chores with agritourism tasks?
Hansen’s Dairy, Hudson, Iowa: Summer is definitely the busiest season. Not only are we doing tours every day, but with fieldwork, keeping the farm clean, and wanting to take advantage of extra daylight, there are just more projects. We hire additional seasonal employees for this purpose or utilize existing employees that want more hours.
Kuehnert Dairy Farm, Fort Wayne, Ind.: September and October are our busiest time of the year when the fall festival is open. We are super busy for eight to nine weeks straight, including setup and takedown of the festival, fall school tours during the weekdays, and festival weekend hours. It is a challenge to balance daily farm chores and harvest in addition to what the fall festival brings. Each family member has their specific daily farm chore responsibility and also daily festival responsibilities. We all work together to make it work.
We hire seasonal help during the fall festival. We have 20 paid employees, and then we also offer volunteer opportunities for the community to sign up to help, and in return, we make a donation to their group. This volunteer opportunity has been a great asset to us over the past few years as we have grown and needed more help to run the festival, and it is also a great way for us to give back to our community. This has also led to another avenue of educating and building relationships with a variety of groups and ages of people who may not normally attend the festival.
North Harbor Dairy, Sackets Harbor, N.Y.: Fall is by far the busiest time of the year with about 1,000 people visiting on October weekend days. Old McDonald’s Farm has two full-time employees, and we have about 15 part-time employees during our season, May to October. We utilize labor from the dairy and crop businesses for big projects, but we submit a work request form when needed so that our projects can be worked into the farm’s schedule.
Roden Echo Valley, West Bend, Wis.: June to August are the busiest months with Farm Camp Monday to Thursday, farm tours, and birthday parties. Jacki and Cindy feed the calves each morning, so when Jacki started the camp program it worked perfectly for the campers to help feed the calves. The campers do a portion of the calf chores, and Cindy manages everything — keeps up with records, immunizations, and so forth.
Jacki runs the agritourism business and has been working part-time on the farm since starting a family in 2016, which was the same time Farm Camp really began to grow. At the beginning, we had camp counselor volunteers, and now we have both paid and volunteer “COWnselors.”