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In our highly urbanized society, people are interested in getting back to their roots and learning how their food, fiber and flowers are produced. Urban and suburban people also often view farmers and ranchers as experts, and are eager to learn skills they can use at home in their gardens and kitchens. Educational programming can include tours, classes, demonstrations, workshops, summer camps and participatory experiences - for adults as well as for children and teens. Here are some resources:

Bring on the bus tour!
Selling your agricultural tour to tour groups
Hilmar Educational display

"You are taking care of someone else's customers. 110 percent of the tour must shine! If something goes wrong, I didn't just lose that senior group, I lost the confidence of the tour company for the next three years."  
D enise Skidmore, director of education and public relations for Hilmar Cheese Company, spoke to the Merced County Ag/Art/Nature Tourism group last month about marketing to tour group organizers, and to the tour companies who offer the tours to groups. She markets Hilmar Cheese Visitors Center educational tours, packaged with an olive oil tasting and a stop at one or two other agritourism operations, to tour companies who offer the tours to groups of seniors and other potential visitors. Visitors to Hilmar Cheese learn about the cheese-making process by touring the processing operations, enjoying hands-on educational displays that Denise has created and tasting samples, shopping and eating lunch in the gift shop/deli. Right now, she hosts about eight to ten groups per year. Denise offered a few tips to others thinking of attracting bus tours of visitors to their operations:
  • Make sure everything is well planned, that all facilities are extra neat, clean and attractive and that all staff are ready and attentive to the visitors' needs.
  • If you are offering packaged tours with stops at several operations, set one price for the tour company and arrange among the operators how to split the fee among the different operations on the tour.
  • Host free tours for group leaders who book tours, such as leaders of senior groups, so they can see what is offered.
  • Have enough restrooms for a busload of people who all want to go at once. Ten toilets may be right for a bus carrying 40 people. Be sure some of the toilets are handicapped accessible and that all facilities meet accessibility codes.
  • The visit is often short, so there may be a time crunch. Make the itinerary of the tour pretty short. You may want to have a driving tour for seniors, on the bus they came on. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to tour the 40 acres of Hilmar's operations on a bus.
  • Be aware of steps and walking hazards, particularly when hosting seniors. Don't expect seniors to do much walking for the tour; think of riding options.
  • Take them on the tour before you feed them, so they don't fall asleep while you're talking to them.
  • Set up different itineraries for different seasons or different months of the year, featuring seasonal harvests and activities, and be clear about the available dates and prices for each different tour.