Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 12, Issue 1 - June, 2019


Preparing Agritourism and Direct Marketing Operations for Emergencies

Jepsen, S. D., Associate Professor, Ohio State University Extension
Barrett, E. E., Assistant Professor, Ohio State University Extension


Emergency preparedness is not the first topic a business considers when it ventures into agritourism. However, inviting the public to a working farm, ranch, or pick-your-own farm has liabilities that cannot be ignored. Whether it’s an annual school tour or thousands of guests picking pumpkins, planning for natural disasters and other life-threatening emergencies is a significant responsibility. An Ohio team of extension professionals developed curriculum resources to help farm businesses protect the public, their employees and the long-term viability of their operations. Through train-the-trainer workshops, over 2,400 operators learned how to evaluate potential risks and develop site-specific preparedness plans.


Ohio is one of the most urbanized states in the country, yet retains over half its land base in agricultural uses (Clark et al., 2003). Seventy-three percent of all urban land cover in Ohio is located within five miles of a highway (Irwin and Reece, 2002). This unique proximity of metropolitan and micropolitan areas keeps agriculture close to core urban areas with high population density. This neighboring effect with agricultural land complements the current trend and popularity to support local food markets and understand food origin (Vasi et al., 2015). For the farm business, the community-style exchange and support for direct marketing strategies has become an important financial opportunity.

The 2012 US Census of Agriculture ranks Ohio in the top ten states for direct-to-consumer sales (NASS, 2016). In addition to this data, other signs of growth include an increasing number of farm markets, community supported agricultural programs, produce auctions, chef-grower networks, farm-based garden centers, wineries and micro breweries linked to tourism. The North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association reports agriculture is “selling direct to consumers - individuals, families, restaurants, tour groups, big companies and others” (NAFDMA, nd). In Ohio, the number of farmers markets grew by 31% from 2010 to 2011, and then grew another 16.5% by 2017 (Agricultural Marketing Service, 2017).

Agritourism is a subset of direct marketing with unique aspects of risks and exposures (Infante-Casella e al., 2018). Agritourism venues include you-pick produce patches, on-farm meat and cheese shops, working farm/ranch experiences, petting zoos, hunting and fishing reserves, and Christmas tree farms. Establishments that offer entertainment such as corn mazes, zip lines, hay and horse rides are often referred to as agritainment, an additional sub-category of agritourism.

OSU Extension provides educational programs and technical assistance to many new and existing agritourism entrepreneurs to enhance their business sustainability and viability. However, a missing component of this training was examining their resilience for handling risk events. In 2013, a report from Ready Ag (Penn State University, 2013) revealed typical agricultural-based businesses cease operations within one year after a disaster hits. Many farm operators are of a traditional mindset, and do not consider how an emergency could impact their operation, or how the challenges of large crowds could affect the way they mitigate emergency situations. Likewise, farmers markets, often managed by volunteer groups or community leaders, may not consider emergency action plans when they arrange vendors and market space attractions. 

In a survey of 397 Ohio direct marketers, 29.29% reported “liability” as a significant challenge they face as agribusiness owners (Fox and Ernst, 2009). Identifying potential risks and planning an appropriate crisis response is an example of the liability issues faced by these business owners. It became evident that resources were needed in the areas of emergency planning and business continuity for direct marketing and agritourism venues, especially when income and safe environments were valued components of a successful business model.



Agritourism operators are likely cognizant of professional resources available for liability and legal obligations in relation to insurance coverage, as well as occupational safety and health practices to protect their workforce from injuries. However, emergency management planning guides were not readily available for these unique businesses. Through a USDA NIFA grant, a team of OSU Extension professionals from multiple program areas set out to develop curriculum and electronic resources for direct marketing venues, large and small.

The primary goal of the project was to increase the emergency preparedness capacity of agritourism enterprises. If a business is to be resilient to emergency situations, then business owners need information and tools to plan, prepare, mitigate and evaluate their response protocol.

The program objectives were to:

1. Fill the void of emergency preparedness knowledge and mitigation planning resources in the event a crisis occurs at Ohio agritourism venues.

2. Enhance the capacity of OSU Extension educators to meet clientele needs by providing industry-relevant emergency preparedness educational materials in every region of the state.

A classroom style program was developed. The six primary curriculum topics were:

1. Introduction to Risk Management

2. Emergency Action Plans

A. Planning for Natural Disasters

B. Planning for Man-Made Disasters

C. Planning for Security Emergencies

3. How to Recover from Emergencies

4. Completing the Final Plan

5. Additional Resources for your Business

Curriculum components developed through the grant have been pilot-tested with agritourism operators and Extension peers. Collectively between the years 2013 – 2018, eight Ohio trainers presented curriculum content to 43 audience groups within North America.

The curriculum resources have been modified based on participant feedback, and have grown to include various teaching resources. All materials are available at no cost to Extension educators and farm managers for use in their respective geographic locations. Our program website, AgritourismReady (Ohio State University, 2019) contains the on-line curricula, videos, and printable flipchart. The complete program resources developed through this project include the following:

Agritourism emergency scenarios were developed to support the curriculum topics. The OSU team members used their experience, as well as stories and examples learned from farms across the country, to enhance the content and provide round table discussion. Group-led scenarios helped managers understand the difference between safety and emergency preparedness. These activities engaged participants and encouraged them to learn from others in the program about how they would respond and recover from a similar experience if it occurred at their site. Participants were led through a case situation, and asked questions about how the crisis might have been different if they would have had a plan in place to deal with the emergency.

A flip chart quick reference guide was created with information for managers to use while developing an emergency response plan customized to their operation. The printable flip chart allowed program participants to complete 80% of their response plan as they completed the classroom training. This quick reference guide was also converted to an interactive, electronic resource for managers to be able to access remotely wherever and whenever emergency information was needed.

A video series of short micro lessons was developed for agritourism managers to use for training at their own operations. While the videos do not entirely replicate the training workshop, they provide teachable moments for the managers to train their employees on the topics learned at the workshop, and emphasize the importance of emergency protocols. Segments of these videos are included in the classroom training to enhance the visuals and give real world examples.

A train-the-trainer workshop was developed after pilot-testing the comprehensive resources with Ohio farm manager audiences. Most programs were designed to be full-day or half-day workshops. Target audiences for these workshops included farm/ranch owners and supervisors, fair and festival managers, agritourism venues, direct marketing enterprises, winery and microbrewery owners. The full curriculum is designed to get managers into the right mindset to write a detailed plan for their operation upon completing the workshop.

A website, AgritourismReady, was created to provide electronic formatted resources to trainers and agritourism operators. The web-based curriculum provided interactive links, corresponding to the Power Point presentations, downloadable plans and videos for training employees. The website allows access at any time to producers, small business owners, and employees in the workforce. Having electronic access increased the team’s capacity to educate beyond the classroom.

Emergency preparedness conference presentations were developed for state and national association and direct marketing meetings. These sessions (typically 45 – 90 minutes in length) were designed to inform fellow Extension educators and farm managers about the immediate need to address emergency management protocols to protect the agritourism operation from liability risk. The conference sessions also informed participants of the curriculum content and how to access and adapt the resources for their use.

Evaluation tools were developed for two purposes. The first evaluation tool collected feedback from workshop participants to be used as summative evaluations for workshop trainers.

Workshop trainers also encouraged participants to conduct a ‘plan evaluation’ as they designed their personalized emergency response plan during the workshop. This evaluation process recommended that participants assemble a team of local professionals with emergency management experience, and who might be part of the local response provider team. This team will gain an understanding of the agritourism activities included at the venue and give the participant feedback to improve their emergency response plan. Having a plan in place, and reviewed by a local team of emergency service providers, brings both parties together to work toward successful risk management and rapid response.



The curriculum has received support from local farm managers and agritourism business operators. The core OSU Extension team educators have taught over 2,400 people at state, regional and national venues. These workshops and conference presentations have been offered through a wide range of direct marketing outlets including Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA), Ohio Fair Managers Association, and the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA). Producer and train-the-trainer workshops have been held in Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Vancouver British Columbia. Because of the focus on emergency management and risk assessment topics, other non-agricultural production organizations have requested sessions at their annual meetings, including the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, the Ohio State Bar Association - Agricultural Law Committee, the National Agricultural Law Center, and the International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health.

The design and development efforts behind this project required several attempts to create materials that were interesting and relevant to the target audiences. Early curriculum looked more like fact sheets from insurance brochures, as opposed to useful tools for emergency response. Once the team determined a flip-chart format, the content flowed in a logical manner and made intuitive sense for the business operators.

The goal to increase agricultural business owners’ understanding of emergency management concepts, not just agricultural safety best management practices, was more easily achieved when the tools incorporated their site-specific information. The participants not only understood the basics of a good emergency preparedness plan, but also appreciated the fact they could accomplish most of the plan during their time in the workshop setting.

State workshops received high ratings in course evaluations. An early workshop evaluation from 2014 shared the experiences of 32 Tennessee and Mississippi agritourism operators as they rated their experience and knowledge gain between 5.72 and 5.84 on a 6-point scale. One of the highest rated items was “I will implement or change at least one practice or procedure to improves safety and/or prepare for emergencies at the farm” (Table 1).


Table 1. Rating of agreement for impact statements. A Likert scale was used, consisting of "strongly disagree" (1), "disagree" (2), "somewhat disagree" (3), "somewhat agree" (4), "agree" (5), and "strongly agree" (6). 


Number Responding

Range of Rating Responses

Average Response Rating

 I have a better understanding of how to keep my customers and employees safe at the farm. 32 Agree to Strongly Agree (4-6) 5.72
 I have a better understanding of how to prepare for and respond to an emergency on the farm. 32 Somewhat Agree to Strongly Agree (5-6) 5.75
 I will implement or change at least one practice or procedure to improve safety and/or prepare for emergencies at the farm. 30 Somewhat Agree to Strongly Agree (5-6) 5.80
 I would recommend this workshop to others. 32 Somewhat Agree to Strongly Agree (5-6) 5.84



A professional development session was offered at the NACAA conference entitled: Training Agritourism Managers and Employers in Emergency Preparedness. Seventeen Extension colleagues from various U.S. states attended this session and provided their rating on a 5-point scale (Table 2). Qualitative statements from these participants included: “I will share (these resources) with local agritourism operators,” “(I will) refer our agritourism partners to the OSU resources,” and “(I will) include emergency preparedness in upcoming agritourism workshops.”



Table 2. Rating of NACAA workshop on a scale of Low (1), Good (3), and Excellent (5).

 Statement Number of Participants Average Response Rating

 Visual Aides: Slides easy to follow, text easy to read, pictures clear

17 4.2

 Workshop Organization: Has purpose and logical procession

17 4.3

 Public Speaking: Clarity, projection, and pace

17 4.3
 Knowledge Gained 17 4.3
 Overall Presentation 17 4.4



Over the years, the OSU project team presented conference sessions at various geographic locations with a wide range of audience participants to market the curriculum’s availability and elevate the awareness for programs addressing emergency preparedness content. Throughout this process of curriculum development and workshop trainings, the OSU team gained a better understanding of emergency preparedness topics, created team building experiences between program area expertise, and was satisfied to help their Extension clients improve the viability and resilience on their agritourism venues.

In addition to the producer workshops and conference sessions, the electronic bulletin received over 1,900 views (in 2018) from 846 users. Twenty-four percent of the visitors are those who have participated in a conference or workshop, or interacted with the project’s social media posts.

This article describes the curriculum developed via a USDA-NIFA grant, as well as the wide range of audiences who were interested in having emergency management topics presented at their association meetings. The OSU project team was encouraged to share the AgritourismReady curricula with other Extension peers as a means to provide these resources beyond those who participated in professional development conferences or Ohio workshops. All curriculum resources are available for public use at AgritourismReady, 



The team feels the most original and creative part of this project was the quick reference guide. This flip chart resource can be posted on-site for employees to use in an emergency. This tool, available in printed and electronic versions, changed the direction of the project and the way emergency preparedness was viewed by workshops participants.

Completing and implementing emergency preparedness plans may make a life or death difference for those working for or visiting agricultural-based businesses. Program impact cannot be measured by participation rates at workshops and conference presentations. The adoption of emergency management plans and implementation of related protocols on agritourism operations will be the true success story of these educational materials.

The benefit for the workshop participants who completed a response plan is peace of mind when an emergency occurs. Longer-term impacts of adoption and implementation of emergency plans can be realized through lowered insurance costs, fewer injuries, protection of assets, and improved business continuity for the operation’s future.


Literature Cited

Agricultural Marketing Service. (2017). Farmers market directory data. USDA. Retrieved from:

AgritourismReady (2019). Ohio State University. Retrieved from:

Clark, J., Sharp, J. S., Irwin, E., and Libby, L. (2003). Growth and change at the rural-urban interface: An overview of Ohio's changing population and land use. Retrieved April 18, 2004 from The Exurban Change Project at Ohio State University:

Fox, J. M., and Ernst, S. (2009). Ohio Direct Marketing Survey Research Report. The Ohio State University. Retrieved from:

Infante-Casella, M., Schilling, B., Bamka, W., Komar, S., Melendez, M., and Marxen, L. (2018). Evaluation checklists for agritourism and direct marketing operations: Farmer and extension resources. Journal of Extension 56(1), Article 1T0T2. Retrieved from:

Irwin, E., and Reece, J. (2002). Ohio Urbanization Trends: Tracking Ohio’s Urban Growth and Land Use Change. The Exurban Change Project Report Number EX-4, Ohio State University Extension.

National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2016). Direct farm sales of food: Results from the 2015 local food marketing practices survey. USDA. ACH12-35. Retrieved from: 

North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association. (nd).

Ready Ag: Disaster and Defense Preparedness for Production Agriculture. (2013). Penn State University. Retrieved from:

Vasi, I. B., Rynes, S., Li, C. B., and Nielsen, J. (2015). Markets with social purpose: Community logics and social exchange between producers and consumers in farmers markets. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Vancouver, Canada.



Authors acknowledge the continued work of the members of the Ohio Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing Team in updating the website and continuing to share this program across North America. The initial materials for AgritourismReady were developed in part through support by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Smith Lever Special Needs grant program (2013- 41210-21191).