Submitted by: Tracy Myers, Eastern Valley Regional Communication Coordinator

For many people working in agriculture, consumer awareness rings paramount. With the technology that exists today, farmers are now able to connect directly with consumers of all ages. Sharing their knowledge, expertise and experience, through a virtual platform, is one way of reaching this audience easily. Farmers are proud of what they do, and sharing this pride is one way in which they can educate the consumer about agriculture and invite them, virtually, onto the farm. It is also a way to highlight what life is like on the farm.

 stock image from:   Durhamfarmconnections.ca  

Setting up a virtual tour takes planning, but is well worth the time and effort. A few steps are involved to ensure its success. It is preferable to use a smartphone that has both a camera and microphone to stream the tour. A gimbal or selfie-stick is also advisable as it ensures ease when walking around the farm and also provides a more professional result. The person conducting the tour should have headphones with a microphone giving the speaker freedom of movement when he or she speaks.

As with any event there needs to be defined roles. The virtual farm tour should have a tour guide (this person would walk around the farm, share information and answer questions), camera operator and moderator, who would act as an additional speaker and ask the tour guide questions.

It is also important to decide which type of streaming platform to use. Zoom, Facebook Live and Instagram Live are the most common platforms. Along with this, it is important to test your on-farm connection. A strong mobile data signal is what you should be looking for, be sure to conduct a connection test. You don’t want any surprises! A good suggestion is to also do a live rehearsal to ensure that your technology and connectivity are working. Additionally, you should come up with “Plan B” just in case your connectivity fails. You may want to have a pre-recorded segment on hand just in case you need to use it during your tour.

Ensure that you organize your stops on the farm. For example, if you are conducting a dairy tour, will you be going to the calf barn first or the main dairy barn?

Identify who your audience is and ensure that your main messages are communicated so that everyone in the tour understands. You may be surprised at the diverse group that will be attending and all will have varying levels of agricultural knowledge. You will also need to come up with a plan in the event that you may need to address difficult questions.

A very important step in this process is to promote. Since this will be a virtual tour you may want to use a website, social media, e-newsletter like The Innovator, or e-blast like Grassroots Matters, in which to do this. Tours are generally free although some will charge a fee to help offset the costs of the individual’s time.

Finally…follow through with the tour and have fun! Remember that you are offering a unique learning experience by connecting participants to real working farms from the comfort of their computers, conference rooms and living rooms. From sustainable farming to safe food production this virtual way of conducting tours is the way of the future!

For some first hand examples of virtual tours please visit OSCIA’s YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/ user/OntarioSoilandCrop. OSCIA has been involved in a number of very successful virtual tours throughout the summer. Here are just a few for you to check out.

St. Clair Regional SCIA held free self-guided summer twilight tours from August 5-11th and you can view the videos here: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8ui0YpYf c0m6tz7Ex57-cSkKak4VUXXe

Georgian Central Regional SCIA recently held four virtual crop tours and you can view the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8ui0YpYfc0nnieSwZi6f7Wf360k-YBKZ

Photo credit: Lorie Smith

Last, but certainly not least, some of our local SCIAs partnered with the Ontario Soil Network (OSN) to develop the “Ontario Soil Online Roadtrip” (https://ontariosoil.net/connectwith-us/soilroadtrip/) featuring roughly 125 farms. You will need to download the free app in order to view the videos: #SoilRoadTrip app.

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