By Dee Jepsen, Lisa Pfeifer, and Laura Akgerman
The fall agritourism season is in full swing — even during a pandemic. And while businesses of all kinds have met unprecedented challenges, there are recommended practices that will go a long way for agritourism operations to keep their doors open while remaining safe and accessible in this environment.
At first glance, agritourism may seem similar to fairs and festivals, but agritourism is quite different. Agritourism farms operate over a series of weeks, sometimes months. Many are open and operate pick-your-own activities or farm market/produce stands throughout the year. They are well staffed and have adopted effective tools to manage all types of customer situations, even engaging in emergency planning. Their livelihood depends on their ability to manage crowds and keep customers safe, be it a weather event or a national health crisis.
Staying safe during COVID-19
The state of Ohio requires all businesses, including farms open to the public, to follow safety protocols for preventing and managing COVID-19. These practices include:
- Face-coverings be worn by all guests and employees.
- Asking customers and employees to not enter the facility if symptomatic.
- Frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizers, encouraged by signage and access to multiple station locations.
- Cleaning and sanitizing workplaces regularly throughout the day and at the close of business.
- Social distancing protocols be in place and encouraged by signage and marking.
- Establishing a maximum capacity for the operation.
- Staggering ticket sales and entry times, offering separate hours for at-risk populations.
When it comes to agritourism venues, additional guidelines may include:
- Restrictions or special arrangements for large groups, such as school or club field trips.
- Establishing separate designated entrance and exit areas.
- Passenger loading and unloading protocols, utilizing assistance from within a group of guests visiting together.
- Limiting food vendors, or ways food is served. Removing all self-service or sampling options.
- Establishing protocols about access to picnic/shelter areas.
- Limitations on capacity for hayrides and field shuttle services, with distancing protocols put in place.
- Limiting activities — making space considerations for corn mazes, play areas and other attractions. Some attractions may be closed, especially if they cannot be done outdoors or be sanitized between guests.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses, including farms open to the public, to follow ADA guidelines for accessibility. For agritourism venues these might include:
- Access to the site using ramps, no-threshold entrances and large-opening doorways.
- Walkways and aisles with no obstructions, debris or other tripping hazards. These areas should also consider the type of walking surfaces that freely enable strollers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters to access the venue.
- Pathways should be 36-inches wide through orchards, corn mazes, and other public areas. A turn-around diameter of at least 60-inches is necessary to turn a wheelchair around at the end of an aisle.
- Accessible bathrooms (site built or rented bathrooms) with no steps or thresholds, bathroom stalls with handrails and sufficient room for a wheelchair.
- Event materials (programs, activity descriptions, advertising) in accessible format — electronic versions that can be read with a screen reader.
- Seating areas and tables that would allow a wheelchair to move between tables, also allowing the person in the wheelchair to pull up to a table.
Planning for safe and accessible operations is not only important for public safety; it is important for the future of a farm business. Additionally, customers may see well-planned safety measures as a reason to visit a farm during these challenging times and as a fun way to spend quality time with family.
OSU Extension has developed a bulletin to assist business owners in developing their plans. The guide is based on publications from the state of Ohio, the CDC and others. This guide can be used to develop opening plans or update existing plans for agritourism operations.
The guidance bulletin is posted on the Ohio Ag Manager website. To watch for updates on the guide, we encourage farms to subscribe to the Ohio Ag Manager Blog at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/.
Additional resources for making your farm and agritourism operation accessible can be found at https://agrability.osu.edu/resources/webinars-and-handouts-2020.
The authors work in the Agricultural Safety and Health Program and the Ohio AgrAbility program at OSU. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Pfeifer, Program Manager, can be reached at email@example.com and Laura Akgerman, Disabilities Service Coordinator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions were made by Eric Barrett and Rob Leeds with OSU Extension. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.