By Lisa Kivirist
As summer rolls in and our farms shine in bountiful abundance, color and beauty, it’s the perfect time to host a farm tour. Blending education with business, a farm tour directly connects your customers with what you are all about and give you the opportunity to personally and authentically share what sustainable agriculture means to you.
That’s exactly what a group of fellow female farmer friends and I will be doing on August 2 as part of a larger weekend event that highlights women farmers in our area of South Central Wisconsin. “Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life” will be a weekend event with multiple events to bring folks to our farms and connect them to what we grow and raise. From on-farm workshops ranging from pesto making to flower arranging to on-farm dinners and culinary events to the Tour of Farms when eight women-owned farms will be open for public tours, Soil Sisters represents what we WFAN women celebrate: the source of what’s on our table and those farmers who grow or raise it with love and care.
My local women farmer friends and I started hosting this Soil Sisters tour four years ago and racked up some learning and tips along the way. As you think about hosting a farm tour this summer, here are the four key ingredients of a successful farm tour from us Soil Sisters, “the four P’s” of a fabulous event:
Don’t let a farm tour snowball into unnecessary last-minute stress. Get set up beforehand. Organization enables you to start a busy tour day relaxed and not stressed out with your mind on other details.
“For me, the hardest part of a farm tour is that a few people almost always show up early before we officially start,” shares Kriss Marion of Circle M Market Farm in Blanchardville, Wisconsin. “I used to always be prepping the farm up until the last few minutes before the scheduled start-time, and then I’d kick off a long day feeling frustrated when I should have been feeling generous and welcoming.” Marion now gets her set-up done the day before and just leaves a few easy and fun tasks such as drawing chalk signs out putting out drinks and snacks for those early bird arrivals to have something to do.
“Preparing for the tour gives me a great opportunity to clean up the grounds and make things a little nicer than if we were just carrying on our normal work routine,” adds Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, Wisconsin. “I’m always happy to have a motivation and a deadline to tidy up the clutter that keeps accumulating on the farm.”
A farm tour can be both entertaining while stimulating your guests to start thinking about our agricultural system and where food comes from.
“Remember most people coming are several generations away from any real knowledge of the farm, which is an opportunity for you to let them know how farms operate and how you care for your animals and land,” suggests Joylene Reavis of Sugar Maple Emu Farms in Brodhead, Wisconsin.
One way to do this is through story telling, sharing the personal while making a point. Have a few farm stories that you tell at certain points of the tour to illustrate your message more poignantly. When I take folks through our growing fields, I joke about the fact that the first year we were on the farm, our zucchini didn’t germinate. While the line always gets a laugh because everyone knows how prolific summer squash is, the story emphasizes the vulnerability of farmers and how we are always learning and improving on our growing techniques. I finish the story with an explanation of year two when the zucchini arrived in crazy abundance.
3. Prioritize Safety
“Think safety of your guests in all aspects of the tour day,” advises Gail Carpenter of Grassroots Farm in Monroe, Wisconsin. Start this process early by emphasizing on your website and communications what attendees should bring and prepare for, such as sturdy walking shoes, sun screen and a hat. We have a “frequently asked questions” page on our Soil Sisters website that both communicates safety and addresses issues so that attendees will feel informed and have a positive experience.
For tours with multiple farms like Soil Sisters, address biosecurity measures by creating a way to clean footwear before entering each farm to guests won’t inadvertently carry disease or other issues to your property. “This could be a shallow basin with a vinegar or bleach solution you change frequently or a disinfectant spray to use on footwear, top to bottom,” adds Carpenter.
4. Plan Flow
Think about flow from the perspective of your guests. For example, is the parking procedure easy to follow and is there signage that directs guests where to go once they arrive on farm?
“We set up a farm stand at the entrance to our main farm area and have people congregate there when they first arrive,” offers Ends. “It’s a good idea to post a sign instructing people to wait for a guide.” At the end of the tour, Ends come back to this table to sell products and promote the CSA and definitely finds more product sales adding up after folks had an interesting tour.
“Set up a resting spot in the shade with water for guests as walking anywhere for non-farm folks can often be much more exercise than imagined,” suggests Carpenter.
Inspired to see us Soil Sisters in farm tour action? Come visit us July 31 through August 2 for the full Soil Sisters weekend experience. The Tour of Farms on Sunday, August 2 is free, the workshops and culinary events on Friday and Saturday require pre-registration and paid tickets. More information.
Lisa Kivirist will be on the Soil Sisters tour on August 2 as well as hosting the Dinner on the Farm and two workshop sessions on August 1. Come to learn how to start your own food business in your home kitchen or relax with a cucumber spa foot soak.