When the stay-at-home order happened in Illinois (where I live), my wife’s small business — a boutique gym with around 70 members — had a decision to make. Completely shut down and hope they make it through with loans or offer an alternative way to keep their members exercising and holding onto their memberships. They decided to go virtual. They recorded classes live and posted them online for the gym members. It worked, and they lost only a few members, mostly because of economic reasons.
Going virtual wasn’t easy. The gym owners are used to being in front of people, not cameras. They prefer interacting with a crowd, not a tripod. But they knew it was the best way to keep things going. It kept their members engaged, and they could talk to them about what they were going through.
Thankfully, the gym is open, but the virtual classes are not going away. They’ve found some members prefer this method, and those who are out of state now want to stay connected. After years of prodding from me and others, they now have both a physical and virtual storefront to connect with members and potential new customers.
Agriculture isn’t much different. I’ve been involved with it for the past seven years, and I’ve always promoted virtual farm tours as a great alternative to connect with those who can’t get out to the farm. Now with the effects of COVID-19 still here, I think it’s the best way to connect with your customers, so they know what’s happening on the dairy.
If you had been planning to do farm tours this National Dairy Month, I hope you consider having the tour online. Here are several ways to go about doing it:
1. Contact your local checkoff team (you can find your local checkoff here), which has the expertise to get you through your first virtual tour if you are nervous about going online. Believe me, they are excited to help you. The more virtual farm tours we have online, the better, so our customers will see the great ways you care for your animals (their No. 1 concern), your land, and how safely milk is produced. Feel free to reach out to me if I can help make a connection to your local checkoff team for you.
2. Consider whether you want to go live or just record and edit your virtual farm tour. There are many online platforms to choose from to record your farm tour, especially now that most of the country has connected via Zoom, Webex, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, and Instagram Live. One farm (Dairy Discovery and SwissLane Farms in Michigan) went live for 24 hours on World Milk Day. Now that is commitment!
3. Put the virtual farm tour on your website so people can view it whenever they want. Every farm website should have a virtual farm tour and then spread the word on social media.
Another benefit of a virtual farm tour is that it will offset the animal rights activists’ stories about farming. We all know they have a mission to destroy animal agriculture, and they use online tools to spread their misinformation and collect funds. It’s hard to do that when people can send them links to the real story and your virtual farm tour. People will see that activists paint an incorrect picture of animal agriculture. There is a new tactic by activists to document the locations of many farms online. It’s called Project Counterglow, and it needs to be countered. You can do this by putting your farm online in the right way with the correct story and accurate information. Not being online at all will not keep your farm protected from this tactic.
While going online with a virtual farm tour might not be as fun as interacting with school kids and parents on a field trip, it’s our best option for the time being. Please consider doing a virtual farm tour and sharing it online. Your national and local checkoffs are here to help you make it happen.