Virtual Farm Tours Serve as Educational and Industry Resource for Dairy Association
Although the American Dairy Association North East began doing virtual farm tours prior to the pandemic, the tours grew in popularity after everything went virtual. Not only do they educate students, but they’ve also been successful in promoting dairy farming and showcasing the industry.
Ever since the pandemic began, organizations have been looking for ways to use virtual offerings to provide access when in-person isn’t possible. The American Dairy Association North East was probably more prepared than other groups, since it had been offering virtual farm tours since 2018. That mean when things shut down in 2020, ADANE was able to scale up, offering the virtual tours to more students.
“There was definitely a huge demand for these educational resources that were very accessible and in a great format to provide to your students,” said Emma Andrew-Swarthout, ADANE’s director of dairy industry image. “Our largest tour took place in fall 2020. It was over 30,000 students that were on one live tour.”
The tours are livestreamed and used to showcase dairy farms, their animal husbandry practices, and how dairy products are produced on farms. All dairy farmers pay into a fund that supports ADANE and other dairy promotion programs, so the virtual tours are open to any dairy farmer in the region.
ADANE tries to include a mix of farmers from every state it covers. “All farms do a great job with environmental stewardship and a great job with cow care,” Andrew-Swarthout said. “But depending on where they’re at geographically and how large their farm is, those practices do look a little bit different. So, we want to make sure we’re sharing the different management practices that go into a farm.”
To participate, the farm must have Wi-Fi, but everything else is covered by ADANE. They provide the equipment for the livestream, run the cameras—one focused on the farmer and one focused on the animal—and send a “site guide” who keeps track of incoming livestream questions.
“So, the farmer can just be looking at the camera the entire time, be very engaged with their audience, and not have to worry, ‘Am I missing a question or is there something I didn’t cover?’” Andrew-Swarthout said. “We just put a headset on them and say, ‘You do the fun part; share what you’re passionate about.’ They share what they’re doing every day to protect the land, to care for cows, and to feed their community.”
Audrey Donahoe, president of ADANE’s board of directors, noted that the virtual tours sometimes let students get a better look at the farms than they might get in person.
“The kids like the action,” Donahoe said. “It’s upfront and personal, and you can get closer to the animals and learn more about them on the video than if you’re actually there at the farm.”
This year, the program has added Deep Dive tours for students in grades six through 12 that come with in-depth lesson plans teachers can use as they participate in the virtual tour.
Tours Promote Industry
In addition to helping educators, the virtual tours are a way to showcase the industry. Tours are archived on ADANE’s website, so people can watch them later.
“Yes, you can show these videos to children in school,” Donahoe said. “We can also show them to doctors or to nutritionist dieticians. It’s the whole gamut of different kinds of people who are all consumers of dairy products who can watch these videos.”
Finally, Donahoe notes the tours are an opportunity to correct misconceptions about the industry.
“One of the biggest challenges we have as dairy farmers is the fact that there are a lot of preconceived ideas out there and people telling our story that is not a true story,” she said. “This gives us the ability to be able to show people this is how we care for our animals, this is how we care for our land. We’re able to tell the correct story, and it’s coming from a farmer. And you’re building that trust with those who watch to consume dairy and dairy products.”
(American Dairy Association North East)