By Liz Brownlee, Nightfall Farm
Fall is the perfect time to host visitors on our farm. The evenings beg for a campfire. Meals are easy—we have a whole season of canned and frozen food to draw on, plus a few things still coming from the garden. Visitors can say hello to animals of all shapes and sizes here on the farm. (We only have turkeys in the fall, and they’re a perennial crowd pleaser.) And, we’re eager to sneak in a few hours of downtime toward the end of the season.
After five years of welcoming visitors here at Nightfall Farm, we feel like we’ve learned a few things. Here are a few tried-and-true tips for hosting visitors of your farm. If you have others, we’d love to hear them.
- Host a big crowd—but iron out the logistics first.
- If you’re in the country on a dead-end road like us, put up some basic signage to help folks find their way. Their GPS software may not do the trick (or they may lose reception).
- Create a welcoming space that guests can figure out without instruction: That farmers market tent doubles as a place for the potluck spread. Set up a clear place for recyclables and compost. Have a place to relax with chairs in the shade.
- Be ready with the basics that your guests might need: water, BandAids, bug spray, feminine products, snacks, and maybe even allergy medicine. Our farmer immune systems are fully prepped for livestock, pets and wildflowers, but not everyone has that advantage.
- When food is involved (and it always is here!), have some back-up supplies. We’re about a 20-minute drive from the nearest grocery, so when a friend brings a few extra pals along, we can’t run to the store for extra snacks. We can always improvise by pulling out some of our canned green beans or quickly thawing some extra sausage. That said, we also make sure to have extras like nuts and chips and salsa on hand—filling, relatively healthy, and most everyone (even kids) will partake.
- If you’re offering musical entertainment, feed your musicians and thank them. They make the party a ton of fun.
- Remember your neighbors. If we have a big crowd, we have to have folks park along the road. Our road is a one-lane little road, so we always try to give neighbors a heads up. Ask visitors to keep dogs on leashes. (Our neighbors have chickens that run free.) Consider late-night noise—not a problem for us!
- Be ready to tell your story, and be proud of your place.
People want to know when our house was built, who painted our farm sign, how many animals we raise, how we got started farming, where we learned to do X, Y, or Z, and much more. But mostly they want to tell us how beautiful our woods are, or how nice it is to hear the birds call in the morning.
This is all, frankly, a big boost for me. I love that other people recognize the beauty of our farm, and it’s always nice to have someone appreciate what you do. It can be a lot of work to host folks on your farm, but the reward, at least for me, is in sharing the place I love.
We like visitors in large part because they make us slow down and appreciate our farm.
- Offer a farm tour.
People came to the farm—they probably want to see your veggies, animals, hoop houses, etc. We’ve learned:
- We can talk about our farm all day—but they probably want to walk around for 45 minutes (1.5 hours max, and that’s only if they came specifically for a tour!).
- Even if the visitors are your friends and family, remember that you’re basically in farmers market/educator mode: Don’t plan to get into the minute details of the farm—give them the big ideas and be ready for questions.
- Warn people when you’re getting close to an electric fence.
- If you’re showing a large group around, they’ll walk way more slowly. Also, know that someone may need to opt out (a kid is hungry, their knees are acting up, etc.).
- People are probably going to want to pet an animal. Know which animals are the best fit for lots of untrained and/or young hands, and highlight that (for us, it’s our baby chicks). Another good option is collecting eggs!
- Invite folks to lend a hand.
Most people used to be farmers—but now, most don’t. We find that our friends ache for what we call “real work”—some project that leads to a tangible product. The best projects are dirty, social, and need many hands.
We organize one to two work parties per year. Sometimes we ask friends to come help plant native trees (we planted almost 350 this way this year!). Other times we need to clean up a 30-year old trash pile on the farm. You get the idea. We’ve learned a few things:
- Pick projects that allow for conversation and being social.
- Be ready with gloves and any and all tools (or ask volunteers to bring along a shovel, etc.)
- Plan to work for no more than four hours. We work a 13-hour day on a regular basis—but most folks have other obligations. They also may not have the desire or stamina to work for 13 hours. Remember that your visitors probably worked a 40-hour week of some variety, and they’re coming on their time off.
- Feed your crew afterward! We always tempt people with the reward of food from our farm.
- Welcome a chance for civil discourse.
Last week, we hosted an event with Jeannine Lee Lake. She’s a Democrat running for U.S. House in District 6 of Indiana. I met her at an anti-KKK event in Madison, Indiana, and we hit it off. We ended up talking about our farm, and she said that she was looking to have an event all about farms and food policy—but that she needed a site. Jeannine asked if she could host her event at our farm, and we said, “Yes!”
I was a little nervous—we’d never hosted a political discussion like this on the farm. (Last year, we hosted a panel of farmers talking about beginning farmer needs with Joe Donnelly’s staff, as Joe sits on the Agriculture Committee. This was part of our efforts with the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition). But this event was specifically related to an election, and we are in a specifically conservative community. Would anyone come? Would people get mad that we were having a political discussion?
I shouldn’t have worried.
We followed the tips above (Bug spray! Water! A welcoming space! Stories!), and the event was a real treat.
Neighbors came, CSA members came, and some strangers came, too. Jeannine was articulate and fun and interested in listening to the crowd’s thoughts.
We talked about the Farm Bill, beginning farmers’ needs, why people care about local food, rural communities and a whole range of other things. A boy in the crowd (whose family is in our CSA) asked a fantastic question about improving gun control at his school.
The conversation was respectful and kind throughout—a welcome reminder that civil discourse is possible and useful.
The plan is for Jeannine to come back and visit once she’s elected to the U.S. House for a full farm tour. (We’ll include key ideas about beginning farmers’ needs … and a chance to pet a sheep or hold a chick.)
This blog is part of a series hosted by Indiana Farmers Union. We post a blogs written by Hoosier farmers at all stages—from just beginning to long-established. If you’re an Indiana Farmers Union member and are interested in writing for us, please contact Sherri Dugger at firstname.lastname@example.org.