April 23 2024 01:18 PM

This is one way we can build trust with dairy consumers.

Doug Sattazahn brings students into his barn to see how cows eat, live, and are cared for.

“More than 700,000 viewers have tuned in to our virtual farm tours since we started the program in 2018, so the proof is in the numbers that it’s been an impactful checkoff investment,” said American Dairy Association North East CEO John Chrisman.

ADA North East created the Virtual Farm Tour program to bring the farm to the classroom to help build trust in dairy. We show – in real time – how dairy farmers care for their cows and land to produce a safe, nutritious product.

Since 2018, 24 different farms from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have hosted a Virtual Farm Tour. This spring, Doug Sattazahn of Zahncroft Farms in Wolmesdorf, Pa., hosted for the first time.

“We need to tell our story – the real dairy story – to consumers,” said Sattazahn. “I encourage other farmers not to be apprehensive about hosting a virtual tour because we can reach so many more potential milk drinkers.”

Sattazahn added that at most he has hosted 100 students at a time on the farm. His virtual tour drew more than 21,000 viewers, which translates to 200 in-person tours.

“Reaching more consumers was the reason we started doing virtual tours, which served us well during the pandemic when everything went virtual out of necessity,” said Chrisman. “We were ahead of the game and able to continue telling positive dairy stories.”

The program has evolved over the years, especially as technology changes, so that only two staff members are on-site for each tour with the farmer. One serves as a facilitator with the farmer, and the other operates a “cow cam” to provide live-action video.

Students can submit questions for the farmer host as the tour is happening. More than 150 questions came through during Sattazahn’s tour, showing the high level of engagement by the viewers. The tours are always less than one hour and are recorded and available for viewing at a later time.

We offer two separate tour sessions, along with free coordinating lesson plans, that take place on the same day at each host farm. Students in grades 6 through 12 can experience a deep dive tour that focuses on how farms use technology and experts to provide care for their animals and the land. A general tour that covers three primary areas on the farm — where calves live, where cows live, and where cows are milked — is available for grades pre-K through 5.

The free, teacher-developed student lesson plans meet Common Core Standards for elementary, middle, and high school classes.

“We’re so fortunate to have so many dairy farmers in our region who are willing to be so transparent about what happens on the farm and gladly give their time to explain it to the viewers. We’re building trust in dairy one tour at a time,” said Chrisman.

Find all of ADA North East’s Virtual Farm Tours here, or visit AmericanDairy.com and click on “Virtual Farm Tours.”

Jean Kummer

Jean Kummer is the industry communications specialist for American Dairy Association North East.