As growers and producers, we love to share our passion with others. Community outreach, particularly sharing our experience with children, is important on every level of farming and homesteading. Farm tours geared toward children can be a great way to engage them in your growing endeavors, though they can create a host of potential concerns. Children are unpredictable, and very few of them have much experience with the realities of a working farm, but don’t despair, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your farm, while making sure children have a great learning experience on your land.
First, doubled check your farm’s liability insurance and craft a legal liability release form to make sure everyone is safe and informed. Then post a list of rules for your visitors and make sure they’ve read through them with their leaders before their visit. In my experiences, most children are excited to learn—they just need to be told what to do—and what not to do—on a farm.
Here are some ideas for farm rules to post. Type them up and send them to the adult organizing the farm tour. Be clear on your expectations, such as if you expect them to read the rules with their children ahead of time. To incentivize the kids and the adults to take the rules seriously, I tell them I’m going to give them a quiz on the rules before the tour begins. This list isn’t exhaustive, so be sure to tailor your rules to the needs of your land.
1. Be On Time
Reminding your tour group to be on time is a good idea. Point out to them that you work on your land and have a tight schedule. Make provisions for late arrivals as best you can, but be clear about the importance of punctuality.
2. Wear The Proper Footgear
Ask that all participants wear shoes that haven’t been on any other farm or homestead to reduce the risk of new pathogens being introduced onto your land. Remind them also to wear comfortable, durable shoes that can get dirty. If you would prefer, you can require participants to walk through a sanitizing foot bath before the tour.
3. Treat Animals With Respect
Post signs denoting animals pens, and provide a map if you’re able. At each pen, post reminders of the rules of engagement with your animals. Don’t assume that any child will instinctively know not to poke, chase or yell at an animal. It’s common to prohibit any feeding of the animals or entry into their pens. If you have goats, cows or other large livestock, or even something smaller like turkeys, it’s important that the children understand these animals can be dangerous when frightened or angered. If you will allow them to interact with animals under supervision, let them know that, too.
Be absolutely clear that any child found chasing or otherwise worrying an animal will be asked to return to the vehicle with adult supervision. This is one of the only rules on which I am completely uncompromising, and I let the kids know it. Being a bully is never OK, even if your victim is “only” a chicken.
4. Close All Gates
Only a farm kid will naturally close a gate behind him, so be sure to clearly state that any gate opened anywhere on the property must be closed after walking through. Very few children live on working farms, so a demo on how to close and latch the gate will be helpful for them.
5. Don’t Harvest Without Permission
Explain that harvesting from or otherwise interacting with plants in the garden without supervision is prohibited. We always allow for supervised interaction with the garden, but that’s the key: supervision. Accept that sometimes accidents happen, and that’s OK—the experience of hosting a farm tour for children is give and take. The goal here is to educate, not obsess over any blade of grass that’s out of place. I once lost an entire bed of carrots to exuberant gardeners whose chaperone had wandered off. The next day, I planted another bed of carrots while remembering the excited faces of those kids who discovered that if you pulled the green part, out came a carrot! I was able to show them that the carrots we’re still too small to be harvested, but we ate them anyway and they were sweet.
6. No Climbing Allowed
Decide if you want to prohibit children from climbing your trees or playing on playground equipment, trampolines and the like. Either way, make sure they and their chaperones know that engaging in those activities is done at their own risk.
7. Sign The Liability Release Form
If you require that everyone sign a liability release form—and I suggest that you do—make sure that this is distributed beforehand so that parents can sign in on behalf of their minor children. Check these waivers upon entrance. I have allowed teachers (not other parents) to sign the form for those children who have forgotten as long as they’re on the phone with the child’s parent who has expressed his or her permission. I wish we didn’t have to mess around with this stuff, but we live in a litigious society and must protect ourselves and our assets. For more advice and information on this topic you can visit Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund—they do have a homesteader level, by the way.
More Great Reminders
Here are some additional reminders that will benefit your farm-tour guests:
- Bring hat, sunscreen and water if the weather is warm; dress in layers if it’s cold.
- Bring paper, pen, camera, phone or any other note-taking device to jot down what they learn and what questions they have.
- Bring wet wipes or something similar to clean hands and faces.
- Each bag or personal item should be marked with the child’s name in case it’s misplaced or left behind.
- It’s OK to be cautious around the animals—you don’t have to touch them if you don’t want to.
- It’s OK to ask questions—we’ll think you’re extra smart if you do since it’s the best way to learn.
To get more ideas on what you can do with kids on a homestead tour, including a rule sheet and a scavenger hunt template, please visit my blog.