Ever get frustrated about the disconnect between farmers and consumers? Do you know what to say when you are faced with someone questioning the industry that you love? As a dairy farmer, you are in the driver’s seat to help create positive interactions with the public. How? By inviting people to your farm to show them firsthand what you do and why you do it.
Farm tours have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to influence a consumer’s opinion about agriculture because seeing is believing. As consumers become more and more removed from the farm, it becomes imperative for farmers to provide consumers with good information about farm practices.
On March 28, Jessica Ziehm of the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC), Laura Hardie of New England Dairy Promotion Board (NEDPB), and Emily Getty of Stonyfield, facilitated a farm tour workshop at Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH for over 50 farmers and industry professionals. The short, four-hour workshop provided practical guidance, personal experiences from a panel of veteran farm tour hosts, and helped attendees feel confident in opening their barn doors to the public. Following the workshop, attendees toured Stonewall Farm – a fruit, vegetable, flower and certified organic dairy farm that ships their milk to Stonyfield.
“This was my first farm tour workshop,” said Jason Slibeck of Slyfox Farm in Wallingford, Vt. “I’ve never hosted a farm tour before, and I wasn’t sure where to start – now I feel like I have some tools in my pocket to use if we do decide to invite the public onto our farm to better understand what we do.”
The workshop addressed different types of tours, such as small private tours or those versus tours that are open to the public. Private tours require less structure but allow for more personal interaction. Public events can be sizable, both in the amount of planning and work, but also in the number of people you can reach. Both types of tours are beneficial and pose a real opportunity to enlighten a consumer about modern agricultural practices and potentially change a consumer’s opinion of dairy farming forever.
“People that have visited a dairy farm and walked in a farmers’ shoes, even if only for a couple hours, are more apt to support dairy farmers and agree with their practices,” Hardie said.
Ziehm added, “We’re at a turning point in agriculture, where farm tours and promotion are key to preserving our freedom to farm and everyone has role to play. When farmers host people on the farm – they’re often pleasantly surprised at the positive response from visitors, and are even inspired to do more farm tours.”
New York Animal Agriculture Coalition
New England Dairy Promotion Board