How to Organize a Farm Tour

In 2012, the Oregon and Washington State Academies of Nutrition and Dietetics teamed up to offer a pre-conference farm tour before their joint annual meeting. A group of 35 registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered — hailing from school meal programs, nutrition education, outpatient settings and long-term care — set out for Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

It was a sunny spring day as the group boarded a charter bus and headed for Pacific Natural Foods, a soup and broth producer. Next was the Chapin family hazelnut orchard, where participants tasted filberts (hazelnuts) out of the shell and learned about the farm’s tree propagation program. The final stop was Willamette Valley Cheese Company’s farmstead creamery, where Jersey cows sunned themselves on green pastures and participants sampled artisan cheeses.

“The farm tour allowed me to bring pieces of information about our local food system to both patients and students,” says participant Amy Frasieur, MS, RD, CD, an assistant professor of nutrition at Bastyr University and a practicing dietitian.

Indeed, farm tours can be an excellent way to get out of the conference room, classroom or clinic and into the fields (or in other cases, urban vertical farms) for a new perspective on agriculture. Here are some tips for arranging a farm tour in your region.

Identify Your Audience
Tailor the experience to the particular interests and focuses of the anticipated attendees. Whom are you trying to educate and what should they learn? Perhaps your participants are culturally diverse individuals from an urban or suburban background for whom general on-farm exploration will be enlightening. Or perhaps your objective is more specific, such as introducing school nutrition directors to regional farm-to-school sources.

Select Farms for Touring
Begin by researching the region where the event will take place to ensure your tour truly represents the local food system. Growing seasons also factor into when and which kind of farms to pursue. Some food producers, such as dairy farms, may be available for visits year-round, while a certain crop or food season may require scheduling during a specific time of year.

Contact Potential Farms
Begin initial contact well in advance, addressing critical details such as date, tentative arrival and departure times, parking options for a bus or van, and whether the farm can accommodate the planned number of participants. Ask if the farm requires or recommends anything of its visitors, such as a dress code. It’s also helpful for the farmer to understand a bit about your group, so have information about the participants’ general areas of expertise available and how they relate to food and farming. Give the farm host guidance about aspects the group may be most interested in seeing, such as crops in the field, animal facilities, harvest operations, or equipment for planting, harvesting and processing.

Arrange Group Transportation
As soon as dates, times and farm locations are established, secure a transportation contract. Do you plan to have only one stop, or will the tour include multiple locations? Build in plenty of time to get from site to site with an on-time return. Ideally, choose a bus or van that can accommodate all participants in one vehicle to keep to a punctual schedule. Encourage participants to engage and discuss their experiences. Also confirm whether the vehicle has an audio system for the tour leader, permits food or beverages, is handicap accessible and, depending on the duration of the trip, has a toilet.

“A transportation contract should be very specific, including bus size (number of seats and vehicle description), location and timing for pickup, addresses of destinations, travel route and planned return time,” says Mary Pyper, director of operations at An Apple a Day, a management company for five affiliates and DPGs. “Contracts should also outline what is included in the final cost: Time, driver, fuel surcharge and gratuity are often part of the final billing.”

Establish Funding and Support
If your tour is focused on a specific food type or crop, reach out to industry partners such as marketing boards, commodity commissions or farms that produce for local schools, hospitals or colleges. These connections can lead to high-quality on-site experiences — and possibly financial support to offset costs. Anne Goetze, RD, LD, director of nutrition education services at the Oregon Dairy Council, says she was delighted to sponsor the Oregon and Washington state affiliates tour. “We have a great story to tell about Oregon food production and agriculture,” says Goetze. “We want RDs to see and hear about the good work and better understand local food production.”

Communicate with Participants and Farm Hosts
A few days before the tour, resend final event details to participants and hosts. For farm contacts, confirm the date, arrival time, departure time, address and phone number. For participants, specify appropriate attire and reiterate that the return time is an approximation — especially for those who may have travel plans immediately following the tour. Provide an overview of each destination, including the farmer’s biography, foods produced and history of the farm.

Food, Drink and Swag
Farm tours typically last a few hours or more; beverages and snacks or a light meal are likely in order. Pyper suggests sharing the menu early so participants with food allergies can arrange to bring their own food. Remember that people love swag, whether it’s food samples, educational materials, a reusable shopping bag or a coupon for a free product. Marketing boards and food processors affiliated with farms on the tour may have materials to give away. If an organization is providing funding, give it the opportunity to share promotional and educational materials.

Garrett Berdan
Garrett Berdan, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and chef. He cooks, teaches, and inspires others to prepare delicious and healthful food.