by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Fewer families farm these days, meaning that they’re one or two generations or more removed from firsthand knowledge of farming. In New York, Ontario County farmers coordinate to host Fun on the Farm on odd-numbered years. This year marked the 15th event in 26 years. A different farm hosts the event each year. Though it includes many family-oriented activities, Fun on the Farm hosts are working farms that don’t ordinarily host guests — not agritourism locations that are continually open to the public.
“We want to educate the public on our farm and its 900 milkers,” said Anne Minns, part of the 2019 host farm, J. Minns Farms & Sons, a fifth-generation farm.
The farm is also home to 700 heifers and more than 100 calves tended by 20 full-time and part-time employees. The farm raises 900 acres of corn, 600 of alfalfa and 150 of wheat. Of the land the Minns farm owns, 25 to 30% is rented.
“We want to showcase our farm in the light we want to,” said Jake Minns, Anne’s son. “You don’t work this hard just to make a profit. You have to love this lifestyle.”
“Fun on the Farm gives us an opportunity to explain how we do things, why we do them,” he said.
Minns cited manure spreading as a farming activity that a lot of people don’t understand.
“They just know it smells,” he said.
Hearing from experts on the hayride about how the farm uses manure and works to protect the land and waterways helps visitors realize that the farm is environmentally conscious and the family members are good stewards of their acres.
The Minns also hosted Fun on the Farm 12 years ago. It’s a huge effort to host. The farm must market the event; designate parking areas; coordinate with local law enforcement for traffic control; set up tents and games, organize vendor booths; rope off any off-limits areas; plan guests amenities like port-a-johns, food for purchase, trash receptacles and food samples (this year included free cheese, juice, maple cotton candy, ice cream cones and grapes). Plus, there’s making sure the farm is clean and tidy. While all this is happening, it’s business as usual — caring for animals and fields.
The day before, the farm hosted area third and fourth grade students for a pre-event sneak peek with a wagon ride tour of the farm.
Other farms in the county aid the host farm. About 2000 or so guests come each year, and the outside help is appreciated, whether it’s driving the guided hayride through the barns, emceeing on each wagon of the tractor-drawn fleet, or manning an educational stopping point on the 45-minute ride.
To help guests, host farm employees wear matching shirts and outside farm helpers wear a different designated shirt. The other farmers also man activity areas which this year included cabbage bowling, a straw bale maze, pedal tractor course, craft tables, grape stomping, apple juice pressing and a farm animal petting zoo with a steer, rabbits, horse, and more.
The farms work closely with Cornell Cooperative Extension agents such as Tim Davis. He said that Fun on the Farm and events like it are all about “the awareness to the public about what ag brings to the community. And it’s just fun.”
Agent Karl Czymmek, senior extension associate with Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program, offered five-minute presentations on cow care topics at planned stops along the wagon ride.
Allan Ruffalo, partner at El-Vi Farms in Newark, said that he hopes attendees “have a better understanding of how we put three meals on their table every day.”