Tram rides

Farmamerica is open to visitors for tours and events after being closed for nearly three months. (People’s Press file photo)

After months of events canceled and the agricultural interpretive center closed to visitors due to COVID-19 safety concerns Farmamerica is open, albeit with new guidelines.

The site, just west of Waseca, is open for walking and biking around, self-guided and guided tours as well as numerous events throughout the rest of the summer.

“We are thrilled to welcome our visitors back to our site with tours and special events,” Farmamerica Program Director Samantha Meyer said. “Seeing the excitement of our visitors when they arrive is something that we look forward to each and every day, and something that we have truly missed. With all of the uncertainty lately, we want to be sure to offer a fun, exciting and safe experience for every adult and child that visits our site.”

In order to reopen and welcome back visitors new procedures have been put in place to ensure the safety of everyone.

New procedures and improvements

Some of the new procedures include: increased cleaning procedures throughout the Visitor Center, hand washing stations around the Farmamerica site,signage with guidance on proper hygiene and social distancing when on site; visitors, staff and volunteers are encouraged to wear masks; tour groups are capped at 10 per group, pre-registrations for events and tours are required to minimize the transfer of cards/cash and to monitor the number of visitors and other safety precautions.

“Throughout the development of the pandemic, we have been continuing to monitor and follow the guidelines set forth by the Minnesota Department of Health,” Meyer said. “This has made hosting events and tours a little tricky to say the least, but we are making the most of what we are able to do. Our staff participated in a pandemic preparedness training where we were given guidance on additional cleaning, sanitizing and customer interaction procedures.”

While closed, Site Manager Gene Kuntz made some improvements to the Farmamerica site.

Landscaping in front of the visitors center was updated, fencing around the 1930s garden and house was removed, along with planting potatoes, onions, corn and beans at the 1930s farmstead and the 1850s homestead.

COVID-19 effects

Meyer said during this time Farmamerica would have typically hosted around 1,500 students for field trips and other educational events. Without these events, Farmamerica lost the income and exposure that it would have typically generated in the spring.

With being unable to host events and educational opportunities Farmamerica had to adjust its budget. Meyer said the Paycheck Protection Program allowed all of the staff to remain employed.

Connecting with students from afar

Students and visitors were unable to stop and learn about Farmamerica in-person due to COVID-19 but Meyer and Executive Director Jessica Rollins worked to bring the experience online and into peoples homes virtually.

“Jessica Rollins and I spent many hours this spring collaborating over phone, video calls and email to create a series of virtual tours for students to get a taste of the fun of the farm while they were distance learning at home,” Meyer said. “We also created another virtual experience in partnership with Junior Achievement for seventh- and eighth-graders to explore the vast career opportunities in agriculture. This spring these virtual experiences that we created replaced our normal field trips and Ag Career Exploration program.”

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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