Getting the farm in shape for agri-tourists

SAFETY FIRST Farm safety and liabilities need to be addressed, and that includes having adequate liability coverage and walking the property to assess hazards

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What happens when you invite the public onto your farm? Will they behave themselves or go tromping through your kitchen? Do you have what it takes to run an agri-tourism operation or offer tours?

Carolyne Saumer — owner of Saumer Time Alpaca Ranch — asked and answered these and other questions during a session held at the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers meeting.

There are many things to think about before opening your farm to agri-tourism, she said.

“What does being open to the public actually mean?” said Saumer, who with husband Tom operates the popular farm venture northwest of Edmonton. “You’ll have strangers on your property.”

Agri-tourism is a good way to promote a farm and its products, but Saumer recommends scheduled visits, clearly posted hours of operation at the farm’s entrance, and a lockable gate.

“We rarely have to turn down the opportunity to offer a tour for the people who drop in, but we do encourage that they call in advance,” she said. “A missed opportunity can be a missed sale.”

Many farm visitors want to learn more about farming, but not all family members may be enthusiastic about interacting with the public, she said. And some people see an open gate as an opportunity to make themselves at home, said Saumer.

Farm esthetics and presentation are a huge part of agri-tourism.

“While it is a working farm, it should be neat and tidy — it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t need to be a show yard, but it does need to be presentable,” Saumer said.

Farm safety and liabilities need to be addressed, and that includes having adequate liability coverage and reviewing the policy frequently with their insurance agent.

“Safety of animals and of guests is always a priority,” said Saumer.

She recommends agri-tourism operators walk their property and troubleshoot in advance.

“Take someone with you who doesn’t know your property and have them point out things that might be a concern for them.”

Operators need to identify and mark off potential hazards or make sure these areas are not accessible to the public. People need to be alerted to the presence of farm machinery and should be kept away from working vehicles.

If animals are on display, then visitors, especially children, need to be educated about safe handling and know they shouldn’t startle animals. Operators may want to consider animal insurance.

Good signage is a must. Highway signs need to be approved by Alberta Transportation, and parking areas need to be clearly indicated.

When they arrive on Saumer’s farm, guests are invited to dip their shoes in a bleach and water mixture to reduce the chance of spreading disease. Handwash stations are provided. International visitors need to have been in Canada for at least three weeks before visiting the Saumer farm (www.saumertimealpacaranch.com).

The Saumers also host several farm events a year. Consistency for farm events and mailing lists are important.

“Track your customers,” said Saumer. “Know where they’re coming from and get their email addresses as a way to get them back on your farm.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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