by: Eric Barrett, Rob Leeds, Peggy Hall, Dee Jepsen, Lisa Pfeifer & Brad Bergefurd
In big or small ways, COVID-19 has impacted aspects of farming and agribusiness. Safety, health, and wellness have become necessary concerns for all farm operations. Inviting the public to an agricultural operation for activities requires farm businesses to take additional safety measures for employees and customers. Agritourism is unique in that the activities offered by farms are enjoyed by the greater community in a managed, mostly outdoor environment.
Beyond agriculture, the pandemic has been especially difficult for businesses that focus on entertainment and related activities where large groups of people congregate. To the public, agritourism may seem similar to fairs and festivals. But agritourism is quite different. Agritourism farms are operated over a series of weeks and even months. Many have been operating pick-your-own activities and farm market/produce stands throughout the pandemic. Agritourism farms engage in emergency planning (i.e. – u.osu.edu/agritourismready). These farms are well staffed and have adopted effective tools over the years to manage all types of customer situations. Their livelihood depends on their ability to manage crowds and keep customers safe.
Agritourism operations need to go above and beyond to plan for safe operations of their farms during the pandemic. This is not only important for public safety; it is important for the future of the farm business. Additionally, customers may see well-planned safety measures as a reason to visit the farm during these challenging times.
As operations begin putting together COVID-19 safety plans for their fall and Christmas seasons it is important that the farm communicates and develops a working relationship with the local health department. The local health department is the entity that is charged with protecting the health of the community and ensuring that the standards outlined in the Responsible RestartOhio orders are met. When making the first call to the local health department, farms should have an outline prepared for the preliminary discussion. For Example, be able to explain What activities will happen, and the plan for disinfecting high touch areas of the farm. Some preliminary guidance is available that relates to agritourism farms. This includes:
Consumer, Retail, Services and Entertainment
Restaurants, Bars, and Banquet & Catering Facilities/Services
Ohio K-12 Schools (As it relates to operating school tours)
Child Care (As it relates to operating school tours)
Local departments may also have additional resources and insights that will help put together a plan to allow farms to keep their guests safe and address situations that may arise during the season. The earlier you can meet with them the more help they can provide. Help them get familiar with your operation and how its operated. Talk to them about keeping your guests safe while sustaining the farm. This year our guests will be looking for fun and safe activities, working with our local partners will be one way we can show our commitment to safety.
Additional resources including printable posters for safety related practices can be found at http://go.osu.edu/foodfarmsafe
OSU Extension Bulletin Forthcoming
OSU Extension has prepared a guidance bulletin to help farms develop their plans. The guide is based on publications from the state of Ohio, the CDC and others. The guide is in the final stage of the approval process and will be available in the coming days. This guide can be used to develop opening plans or update existing plans for agritourism operations.
The guidance bulletin will be posted here on the Ohio Ag Manager website. To watch for updates on the guide, we encourage farms to subscribe to our Ohio Ag Manager Blog at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/