A day on the farm is always a day to remember. It’s a day filled with education, where consumers can learn about nutrition, agriculture, livestock, and more.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has limited in-person field trips to many farms, the American Dairy Association North East has developed a new way to explore life on the farm.

Live streamed virtual farm tours allow students in Western New York to take part in free tours via the internet, during which students are able to explore and experience the responsibilities and commitment farm families dedicate themselves to for the betterment of the community.

The American Dairy Association North East paired with Mulligan Farm in Avon to celebrate both National Farmer’s Day and October as National Farm-to-School Month in October. Mulligan Farm also hosted a virtual farm tour in the spring.

“For the virtual tours we have three American Dairy Association North East staff on site to help capture the content. Two of the staff are equipped with cell phones with high quality cameras to capture the farmer and the cows or other action shots,” said Kelsey O’Shea, industry relations specialist with American Dairy Association North East. “The farmer wears a noise canceling headset/microphone, so you can hear them clearly. The third staff member sets up in the farm as a ‘tour guide’ to monitor questions as they come in and relay those in real time to the farmer. It definitely takes coordinated effort to do a virtual tour, including pre-tour connectivity checks, blocking, rehearsals, and even some media interviews. But the actual day of the tour goes by really quickly.”

The most recent tour on Oct. 12 was geared toward Pre-Kindergarten through eighth-grade students and teachers. Emilie Mulligan, a dairy farmer and fourth-generation owner of Mulligan Farm, led the tour.

Emilie typically highlights three primary areas on the farm – the calves, the mature cows, including where they live and what they eat; and the milking parlor, where milk leaves the cow and starts the journey to the refrigerator.

“On the virtual farm tour, I gave a brief history and overview of the farm, including farm size, number of animals, number of employees and family member involvement. I then spoke about key areas on the farm, highlighting the importance of quality care for animals and land, as well as, ways our farm works to reduce our environmental impact,” said Mulligan.

Looking to make virtual farm tours a more regular occurrence, Mulligan Farm has hosted tours in the past and hopes to continue to do so with the guidance of American Dairy Association North East. The most recent virtual tour welcomed 9,000 people who signed up prior to the tour. There were more than 200 questions asked and answered during the tour.

“We had some very curious kids this morning,” Mulligan said shortly after the tour. “It was great!”

American Dairy Association North East hosts three tours in the spring and three tours in the fall. Tours are 30 to 60 minutes long.

The virtual tours have become quite popular because they not only accommodate a broader range of people at one time on the farm, but they also allow people to have access to behind the scenes operations, which they otherwise would not be able to see in person most likely due to safety reasons.

“People really get to see a little bit of everything. We start in our calves’ hutches area and then go to the farm. They learn about calf care and how our calves are fed and what they sleep on. They learn how the cows are fed and about the free stalls they live in, as well as, how they sleep on sand,” said Mulligan. “Then we go into the milking parlor and we get to see the process of actually collecting milk from the cow and the specific routine that our employees go through to prep a cow and make sure we have a clean and sanitary product for people.”

Allowing consumers to see how dairy products are produced and showing them where the products come from allows people to become more informed, as well as, support local economies.

“The hope is always to give consumers a real-time and behind-the-scenes look at what farmers are doing to produce nutritious dairy products on the farm. The goal is to communicate the methods and reasons that farmers do what they do, and how those choices ultimately result in the healthy dairy products consumers enjoy every day,” said O’Shea.

By allowing consumers to take a virtual farm tour, farmers are able to explain farming in further detail and “community members can benefit from these tours by not only learning a little bit about the science and technology that goes into dairy farming but also being able to ask any and all questions and get answers in real-time.”

The last tour Emilie hosted at Mulligan Farm, in May, reached all 50 states and three countries.

The tours are recorded and available online after each tour.

“People can see them later on and watch them,” said Mulligan. “We get a lot of post live tours as well.”

Dairy farmers, such as Mulligan, are able to answer students’ questions, such as, “How much does a cow weigh?” or “Does a cow like to be milked?”

A handful of farms in Western New York have been featured throughout two of American Dairy Association North East’s digital series – “Fun on the Farm” and “This American Dairy Farmer.” That series included Edleweiss Farms Inc., in Freedom; Oakfield Corners Dairy in Batavia; Ivy Lakes Dairy in Stanley; and Rudgers Registered Jerseys in Attica.

To view a post live virtual farm tour or register for a future live farm tours, visit AmericanDairy.com/Tour. The site also provides a link to view post live tours on YouTube.

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