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Farm Visitors, farm safety

Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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We are wrapping up our second year of establishing a value-added, cider apple-based polyculture. We are located in a gateway town to one of Utah's national parks. Visitors are part of the model to sell our products and part of the parks and recreation economy that is a local resource and reality. Reality #1, most of my neighbors don't drink for religious reasons, so the majority of my products will need a wider distribution.

Farm visits are part of the marketing plan. We actually have two non-adjacent parcels, one we live on at the end of cul-de-sac; the other, where I hope to do more of the visitor experience, is a block off the main highway on a non-residential road. Our zone 1 & 2 permaculture experiments are obviously on the home parcel. Some separation is by design; I don't want strangers in my bathroom anyway.

We are planting out the second parcel next spring. This winter is thinking time, and I am pondering how to arrange things to enhance a visitor experience, and also make it safe. The last thing I need is a lawsuit because someone falls into a swale.

For those of you doing educational, u-pick, or other visitor-intensive farming, what do you suggest? If you have done an internship or WWOOFing somewhere, what did they do to make it visitor-friendly? Even though we aren't doing a u-pick, I start by quoting a comment from another thread on the viability of u-pick operations, because I think Ken's comments pertain to the larger question of managing visitors, both to enhance the marketing value and to minimize my risk and overhead. We can do better than tossing a couple picnic tables next to a porta-potty if we put our heads together.

Ken Peavey wrote:
There are some issues to deal with, as with any enterprise, but nothing insurmountable.

Call it that if you like. For a wider appeal to the public's understanding, you might call it All-Natural or Chem-Free. You can use the term Permaculture when you talk to them. Regardless of how you identify your growing methods, you can use many cultural practices involved in permaculture design. You also may want to do some tweaking for the sake of making the picking area customer friendly.

The paths and walkways need to be easy to walk on and clear of hazards. Chop and Drop may want to be replaced with woodchips and mulch. People falling down is a liability concern. Irrigation lines crossing a pathway need to be underground.

Curb Appeal
People like neat and tidy. Farms can be cluttered with so much going on. If you want to bring people in, you've got to keep the place in order.
Gotta have parking for a few cars in a convenient place. Walking a quarter mile won't work. Something growing 10 feet from their bumper will draw them in. They'll walk a mile once they are in the field. To keep the walking distance down, intensive planting with wide rows and narrow paths is the way to go. It won't be a traffic jam in there.
Weeds need to be kept in check. Ample mulch handles the weeds, offers a neat appearance, and serves your needs as well.

Picker Friendly
Making it easy for people to pick will help. Reaching through brambles to get to a coplanted carrot is not the way to go. Pole beans do better. You have to bend over for pole beans. Root crops are less favored-it's dirty and much more work. I've sold beets, turnip and radishes just fine. Raised beds work very well, but should be reachable from the pathways. 3-4 feet is plenty wide. 50 feet long is a fair distance, lets them readily move to the next row, solves traffic problems should you have a few pickers at the same time. 50 feet is also the standard length of drip irrigation tubing. Pathways should be smooth, mostly solid, and a couple feet wide. Having an entire bed in just one species may not be the best plan. Split up the beds into 2-4 or more crops. Folks can grab some broccoli, then turn around to grab a couple of cukes. Polyculture if your friend.
Offer clean buckets for carrying their booty. Smaller buckets or flats may be in order for berries. Gotta have a handle.

Again, polyculture is the keyword. A few kinds of lettuce, cukes, zukes, squashes, melons, spinach, rutabaga, eggplant, tomato, pepper, radish, kale, arugula, chard, beets, peas, beans, okra...20 or more species ready to go at any given time would go a long way to supplying the needs of the customer. Also, raise cultivars people will identify. Purple pole beans don't work. People know exactly what a green bean is. A little bit of variety here is ok, but don't get carried away or you'll be the only one having it for dinner. every. single. night.

Most people will respect the beds and use the pathway to walk around to the other side of the bed. A length of bright sash cord delineating the bed will help, but it must be low enough to reach over. A foot high is about right, but it has to be visible. If people are trampling, its not as bad as you think. That mulch spread out the weight, kids don't weigh much, and Alan Savory has shown it to be effective at remediation of abused soils. IF people do jump the rope to march through a bed, they tend to watch their step, choosing spots with nothing growing. You can always add some flat stepping stones. If you have plants that are not yet ready beside harvestable plants, those not yet ready plants are still growing and can take a degree of abuse.

The kids will get into the berries. Permaculture teaches us to use nature to our advantage. Berries are a trap crop for children, who bring their parents, who bring their wallets.
How much is the kid going to eat?
There are some fruits, garden huckleberries for example, that should not be eaten unless ripe. Plant a big red post or other CLEAR warning in the ground or simply select a different crop.
Put up a sign near the cashout station "Wash your produce before eating." Have a single entry point near the parking area. Having the Wash Sign visible when folks come into the field will help deter consumption.
People like clean food.

Don't underestimate people. There are a great many with a good head on their shoulders. Put a tomato plant in front of them, even if they don't know how to pick one, they will be able to figure it out real quick. It's not rocket science. They want the beans whole, the stem on the apples and peppers. They'll take the entire head of lettuce and cabbage. They'll need clippers for the cauliflower. If something gets ruined by bad harvest practices, it will be tossed or dropped and decay back into the soil. Often people will ask how to pick something with which they have less experience. As they learn to harvest something right, they will employ that knowledge when they encounter a similar plant.
If its not ready to pick, hang a red flag. If it's ready, hang a green flag.

Posts: 1233
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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Just to rough in the playing field boundaries: Might do a stealth run by the code people and see what ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to around you. Also any miscellaneous other code stuff like number of restrooms, hand washing, width of "public" pathways, etc. The key word is "public"; other keys are property size/type, type of business license, level of insurance coverage, "occupancy" (number of "public" present at one time). Check (if you haven't already) parking requirements, if any - not yours, but the city/count/state; such things as distance from road, width of driveway, etc.

If you have ready-picked product that will sell. I think (judging by myself) that many people like to _look_ at the raw material and large inspiring colorful signs explaining what they're looking at but most would be drawn by well packaged ready to go product front/center. The picking would be something of a novelty attraction for photo-ops and to get the kids wore down while the adults made sure dinner was covered by the packaged stuff.

If you have people actually out _working_ the crop, in whatever fashion, dressed like a farmer, people would stop to talk, take pictures and feel "genuine". Depending on the scripting they might find buying more interesting, also.

Samples are always attractive and may move sales.

A NICE spot to sit down. An attractive shaded location, shelter from wind (if common) - _got_ to have that shade. Grove of trees would be best but vine or lattice covered table area works too. "Aim" the seating area at glorious romantic vistas - as possible. Buying area should be comfortable also - ie. shaded, sheltered, flat easy walking (or rolling for ADA). Packaging with _very_ easy to read names and prices will save some time for the counter people. Large font lists of what _is_ available right by the entrance to the buying area and the fields will save a little time in questions and such.

Condiments,spices and recipes for the product. The latter should sell the former... If you have space, decide if you'll let people cook.

Refreshments and munchies, always sell. Homemade or commercial.

Large amounts of cool good tasting water easily accessed; there _will_ be spills and splashing and some clown _will_ try to wash his face if it's possible... Or let his huge dog lick the spigot. <g> Ain't folks wonderful??? <GG>

All the above is based on personal predilection and experience traveling. To emphasize: SHADE! <g>

Edit: Have good hats and glove(?) available, maybe those dinkie fat foam kneeling pads gardners carry around. Sell or "rent" w/deposit.

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