LONDON — Farms in the agri-tourism business feared a shockwave this year due to COVID-19 restrictions but many adapted and stayed open, despite taking a revenue hit.
Revenues dropped for Steve Kustermans, of Kustermans Farm west of London, but by and large he is happy with the way things have gone. The 100-acre farm offers 14 acres in blueberries, 2 acres of raspberries, 3 acres of strawberries, 5 acres of sunflowers, and 5 acres of pumpkins.
To comply with the COVID-19 safety measures, the farm put out hand sanitizers all over the farm, offered three masked attractions, and erected signs reminding customers of the distancing rules and hygiene recommendations. They also started timed ticketing, which had three time slots at three hour increments. “We felt that the three hours was enough for our guests to get the value out of their visit and allow us to have enough turnover to gain the revenue we needed for this year,” he said.
All in all, Kustermans says that COVID-19 will have a financial impact that will last for years but he is nevertheless optimistic about the future. “I do think we will be able to weather the storm.”
Niemi Family Farm, at Mount Albert, opened early in the pandemic and offered home delivery and curbside pick up. The flowers, fruit and vegetable farm also has a bakery and owner Marjo Niemi says online sales can be stressful as things have to be ready much more ahead of time.
The farm hasn’t hired extra employees as they have 10 children and the high-school aged ones who had to stay home from school are a big help.
They are opening a Christmas market on November 13 and will offer a bonfire attraction. The bonfires, she says, are being set up to facilitate social distancing outside. Hand sanitizer will be provided, and each fire pit will seat a maximum of five people.
With the possibility of restrictions going well into next year, Niemi is optimistic that the farm will be able to adapt to any circumstances. “Everything changed overnight in the spring and we were able to successfully go online,” she says.
COVID restrictions mean more work, however, and that means more stress. Shantz Family Farm, a 170-acre farm south of Kitchener, has fared reasonably well but Kevin Shantz said that they have been stressed by the way in which some of the restrictions have been implemented. Shantz said that back in July he removed some of the farm signs to avoid attracting large crowds and the fines that could have resulted from that. He said that Ontario Health and the Health Department gave him contradicting answers to his concerns about what might happen. One wanted to enforce the gathering restrictions while the other would not give him back the money for the signs. He closed the corn maze but their large pumpkin patch remained open.
To adapt to the measures, Shantz says that they spaced things out on the farms like the playgrounds in order to ensure social distancing. He says that government officers seemed more interested in finding a reason to fine him rather than look at what he was doing to address problems and reward him for it.
As for long term challenges, Shantz says that they have a lot of committed customers who will continue coming to them no matter what happens. Though, one challenge is the insurance liabilities on the farm. Since the farm didn’t get as much activity this year, they will have to arrange something with the insurance company to help ease those financial pressures. Thankfully, they also have family help to keep operations going smoothly, he said.