(03/20/17) ALBANY, La. – Strawberries glistening in the sun await thousands of children who will visit Mrs. Heather’s Strawberry Farm in Albany this spring. In addition to strawberries, the you-pick farm has a picnic area, chickens, face painting, a jump pillow, swings and slides.
Mrs. Heather’s is popular destination for school field trips from Baton Rouge, New Orleans and McComb, Mississippi, and everywhere in between, and it was the setting of an LSU AgCenter workshop on agritourism safety on March 9.
Dora Ann Hatch, AgCenter agritourism coordinator, said the workshop outlined safety steps for those interested in agritourism.
“We have certified tourism operations as well as those trying to get into agritourism, so they have to learn what they need to do to make the farms they will eventually develop safe,” Hatch said.
Marsha Salzwedel, an agricultural youth safety specialist, said 33 children are hurt on a farm each day, and every three days one is killed. Salzwedel presented an extensive outlook on safety and hazards on the farm and provided checklists and resources agritourism operators can use to ensure their farm is safe.
“Farmers, we walk our operations almost every day,” said Salzwedel, who has an agritourism farm in Wisconsin. “We get so used to what we see on our farms on a daily basis that we become blind to the things that are there and to the hazards that are there.”
Hazards were intentionally set up around Heather Hughes’ farm. Workshop participants walked the farm, tested playground equipment and reviewed the parking lot to see if they could spot dangers.
Hughes said she volunteered her farm for the workshop because she thought it could help improve safety at her operation.
“It’s good for me to learn things. If someone else comes in, they may see things that we don’t, so we can fix them,” Hughes said.
Salzwedel said common issues include unsafe pathways, lack of barriers to restricted areas, playgrounds without proper ground cover and inadequate hand-washing stations. She stressed there is a lot of unpredictability when visitors come on a farm.
“Farmers have a right to be worried about liability, but if you properly assess your operation, you can mitigate that risk,” Salzwedel said.
Lorraine and Harrell Loupe, of Baton Rouge, inherited land between Ville Platte and Opelousas and are considering turning it into a agritourism destination.
“We came here to gather sources of information,” Harrell Loupe said.
The Loupes said they would like to use their land as a retreat for women and their daughters interested in hunting and fishing.
George Toups, a retired agriculture professor from Thibodaux, wants to open a field trip destination for school children on his land.
“I am trying to build my plans, and I hoped this would give me a little more confidence that this is not a non-doable endeavor,” Toups said.
He said the workshop showed him all the details he will need to address. “You need to have everything covered. I need to see what if there is ant hill coming up, what are policies for controlling ants or inspecting the citrus orchard for wasp nests,” Toups said.
This is the second workshop series funded through a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Southern Risk Management Education Center. Maria Bampasidou, assistant professor in the LSU AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, said the grant presents the opportunity to work on key topics that agritourism operators face.
“There are three main components we identified for Louisiana, legal risk, financial risk because people turn to agritourism to increase their income stream or diversify their income, and we wanted people to visit an agritourism operation, so the perfect topic for that was safety and emergency management,” Bampasidou said.
A similar workshop was held at the AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station in Homer on March 7.
Marsha Salzwedel, right, a youth agricultural safety specialist, talks with James and Rheta Baldwin, who are interested in starting an agritourism operation. Salzwedel presented on agritourism safety at an LSU AgCenter workshop at Mrs. Heather’s Strawberry Farm in Albany on March 9. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter
Arlen Whitehead, of Gretna, picks strawberries with her 19-month-old daughter, Rose, at Mrs. Heather’s Strawberry Farm in Albany. The farm was the host site for an LSU AgCenter agritourism safety workshop on March 9. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter