July 6 2017 08:00 AM

On-farm experiences and conversations can make a difference.

Have you given a farm tour at your dairy lately? Why or why not?

I love having visitors at our farm and would give tours every day if I could. But, I know not everyone shares this same level of enthusiasm — including my husband. (wink, wink)

If you’re on the fence about opening up your farm to visitors, here are two reasons (from least to greatest importance) why I say yes to farm tours. Perhaps one will resonate with you.

1. Scheduling a farm tour puts a deadline on finishing all of the non-urgent upkeep projects that we often tend to put off.

Jobs like painting the white fence by the driveway or painting the cow by the farm sign are just a few examples. I’m guessing you might have a list that’s as long as mine.

These projects make our farms look neat and tidy, but they’re not necessary for the day-to-day success of our farm businesses. It can feel like a lot of extra work on top of regular chores to get these projects done, but I always feel extra proud when our farm is spiffed up.

That said, getting ready for a farm tour is a lot like planning a wedding. We all have an ideal in our head of what we want our farm (or wedding) to look like. That vision of perfection in my head is attached to a long mental to-do list — a list we never come close to completing. But, like a wedding, the only one who knows what perfection looks like is you. Our farms don’t have to look perfect – and ours certainly never will — in order to be ready for a farm tour.

2. Farm tours are the gold standard for helping others learn more about dairy farming.

We spend a lot of time promoting the benefits of sharing dairy farming through social media, but a snapshot on a screen doesn’t come close to the complete sensory experience that happens during a farm tour. Furthermore, farm tours provide better opportunities for one-on-one conversations about farming.

The impact of these experiences and conversations is often immeasurable, but sometimes we find out later that a farm tour really did make a difference for someone.

Two years ago, we gave a tour of our farm to a small group representing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and our cooperative, Land O’Lakes. The CFTC commissioners asked to come during morning milking so they could milk a cow and see what real life on a dairy farm was like.

I remember the visit as one of our most interesting tours because the commissioners were very interested in discussing the financial and business aspects of dairy farming — topics that rarely come up with visitors.

Two weeks ago, much to my surprise, that farm visit was mentioned during testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Commissioner Chris Giancarlo of the CFTC, who was one of the visitors who milked a cow that morning on our farm, appeared before the Ag Committee as part of his nomination for the chairmanship of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

“My experience with [the Frerickses] was formative,” Commissioner Giancarlo said during the hearing. “I often think of the Frericks family when I think about . . . America’s small family farms . . . and their reliance on price signals from futures markets.”

Affirmations like this are the reason I always say yes to farm tours.

The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.