Inviting people to visit your farm: Safety for your agritourism business
Tourism and agriculture are often listed among the top industries in Michigan creating economic value. The point of connection between these two sectors is known as agritourism.
Tourism and agriculture are often listed among the top industries in Michigan creating economic value. The point of connection between these two sectors is known as agritourism. According to Michigan Agritourism, a non-profit organization that supports this industry, “anytime a farming operation opens its doors to the public and invites visitors to enjoy their products and services – that’s agritourism.”
If you’ve decided that agritourism is something you’d like to add to your farm, there are some things to understand about what is required. You want to plan for visitors who likely haven’t had experience with working farms and you need to work insure that visitors are safe from potential hazards of farming enterprises. Consider how to make the experience meaningful and valuable for your visitors and customers.
The following things are important to keep in mind as you plan to invite the public on to your farm:
- View the farm from an outsider’s perspective to better understand potential hazards.
- Adequate and well-trained staff to assist visitors.
- Signage that is clear for visitors and prepares them for the experience.
- Visitor parking that has clear entrances and exits.
- Food safety planning for farm products and what is served at your location.
- Cover your liability with insurance including your agritourist enterprise.
Understand potential hazards
One of the first things that you can do to prepare your farm to welcome visitors is to review hazards that exist on your farm. To understand how outsiders view your farm, consider inviting someone onto your farm to help you identify things you haven’t thought of and places where the public will not be invited. For those locations, think about signage that will tell people where they are not allowed and where they can visit. Ohio State University Extension-- has a handy guide to get farms “Agritourism Ready” that helps farms to understand risk management and plan for safety and emergencies. Planning for emergencies has to do with responding to an incident like a tornado warning or an injury while safety deals with prevention, training and rules for everyday operations. For example, making sure smoke detectors are tested is part of safety and putting out a fire is part of responding to an emergency. Regular tasks that are assigned to employees and rules for employees are part of planning for safety. Sharing plans for the event of an emergency is part of training to respond.
For operations that are inviting people to harvest themselves, like U-Pick fruit or cut-your-own Christmas trees, insure that people know where they can go, how to find what can be harvested and how to harvest what they take without damaging something else. The key to this is well-trained staff that will assist visitors. Staff should insure that visitors know how to use equipment available safely. If guests are being transported on the farm, be sure that vehicle is safe to transport people and their selected products. Signs instructing guests to stay seated and use care when mounting and dismounting the vehicle are a good idea. When training seasonal employees, review safety procedures and tie the information to the mission and values of your enterprise.
Signs to assist customers
Signage on your farm may not always be read or adhered to but you can do a lot of good to post notices that help to direct people toward where they should be and away from where you don’t want them on the farm. Consider adding signs to prevent people from entering buildings that you haven’t had inspected for visitors, to direct them toward entrances and exits, and to keep them away from potential hazards. Consider adding educational signs that help them to understand your enterprise. For example, you may want to help the customer understand the time it takes for a tree to grow to maturity so that they can understand how much you’ve invested in your product.
Keep food safe for customers
If you offer ready-to-eat food or beverages for sale, make sure you get licenses from your local county health department to insure food safety. You’ll need to have your preparation space inspected and your process approved. You can sell cottage food from your farm directly to customers but be sure to follow the guidelines for Michigan Cottage Food Law.
Consult an insurance professional who can assess your business and provide coverage for this enterprise. Do not assume that your current farm policy will cover having visitors on your farm. Acquaint them with the planning and preparation that you have done including all the aspects covered above. Try to anticipate the questions that will be raised and have documents and answers ready for the broker or agent.
In summary, providing a positive experience for customers is a different set of concerns than growing or taking products to other markets. When you invite people onto your property, prepare for these guests and work to make their experience with agriculture a positive one that they will remember for years to come. The work that you do to get them to your location is half the effort. Getting them to return to your business again and again depends on the experience that they have when they visit. You can plan to keep them safe and have a great time while they buy from you. Michigan State University Extension works to support both agriculture and tourism industries in our state through our educational programs. For more information about these programs and resources, contact an Extension educator.