Open the farm gates and they will come. It doesn't hurt if you send out post cards, post flyers, and get reporters to do stories in the newspaper and on the Web either. But Laura Stockwell found that it was possible to get more than 400 people to come to her family farm on a Saturday afternoon to learn what the farm was about and how modern dairy farms operate.
Her father, Kevin, and brother, Kyle, manage Stockwell Farms, Inc., near Hudson in Steuben County. After sitting through a local zoning meeting where county residents, many of them owners of houses near lakes, objected to changes in how a county dairy would be operated, they realized that it was time to do what they could to educate people. In this case, the other dairy got the changes approved, but the message was clear—not everyone understands dairies and what they do to protect the environment.
The Dairy Adventure Laura designed included self-guided tours of the calf barn and milk house, a straw bale maze and sand pile for kids, free ice cream and cheese, and more in-depth wagon tours so people could actually see the cows, where they lived, and learn how manure was handled. A nutritionist, agronomist and a vet talked on the tours, and the tour wagon was pulled by tractor down through the middle of one of the free-stall barns where cows are kept. Fans were going and with the center top of the roof left open on purpose, air circulated through the barn, keeping cattle comfortable. In the winter they drop curtains on the side of the building but still maintain adequate ventilation.
"We felt like we accomplished what we wanted to do," Laura says. "We wanted our neighbors and others in the community to see that we do our best to take care of our cows and the environment."