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The Intersection of Dairy Farming, Public
Education and Covid = Safarmi!
 Photo: Brianna Anderson
 Photo: Brianna Anderson
An ‘eagle-eye-view’ (with the help of a drone-camera) shows visitor cars making their way through the Safarmi course at Eagle Acres.
Covid-compliant curiosity goes both ways at the Safarmi!
  By Brianna Anderson
In 1999 Brian and Erin Anderson founded Eagle Acres Dairy with the prerogative to teach the public about where their food truly comes from. Recognizing at the time that misinformation about agriculture, particularly dairy, was widespread, the young couple originally began advertising their tours at fieldtrip fairs and teachers’ conferences. Aside from building an audience, they also had to build a barn with a tour facility and start a herd – the latter of which was mainly bought from Erin’s parents (Alfred and Joyce Gabriel, Gabriel Farms). Beginning with school field trips and later adding various tour types for the
public, such as private tours, drop-ins, birthday parties and events, has expanded their audience over the years. What began modestly has been fast paced in the past 10 years, welcoming over 8,000 guests per year on average, purchasing a robot in 2012, building and moving to a new facility in 2017 and now weathering Covid.
At their new location, the Andersons were able to perfect the barn layout and optimize their tour approach. Now, the tour bleachers with a capacity of over 200 people are angled towards the robot and a three-stall demonstration herringbone parlour. The barn is set up to show the public how free flow works for the cows, with access to
pasture, cow brushes and the robot 24/7; even the calves are raised in group penning with an automatic calf feeder and their own mini grooming brush. The barn layout and tour style all highlight to the public that the cows choose what they do, and that for the most part, dairy farmers act as ‘managers’ of sorts. Elements of dairy history were also brought to the new location - one section of the barn is built as an old hip roof barn complete with a silo façade while the inside displays various dairy antiques and small farm animals.
When the Covid lockdown began, Eagle Acres was forced to close their doors because the tours had been established as walking tours. In a regular year, March would signal the start of their busiest season, welcoming multiple daily school tours from the end of spring break until June. These tours would cover the spectrum from preschool to university, specifically tailored to their age, offering optimum hands-on education. But Covid made this anything but a regular year! Without farm tours, the family focused on completing much of their ‘to-do’ list, but by April everyone was ready to somehow welcome guests back to the farm.
The ‘Safarmi’ concept was originally conceived to facilitate the Eagle Acres Pumpkin Patch, should the lockdown extend into October (oh, they also have a pumpkin patch!), allowing people to tour the farm from the safety of their own vehicles. However, cabin fever has a brilliant way of distorting one idea into another, and it wasn’t long before all five Andersons were test-driving the Safarmi route, working out the bumps in their roadmap. The circuit begins at the front of the barn where there are various small animals, then wraps along the outside of the barn and takes the visitors around the back of the property, finally they exit down the main feed alley of the barn and have the option to repeat the route again or leave. All in all, Safarmi goers will see four dairy breeds and eight other species of animals.
Safarmi has proven to be a positive interaction with the public, and in a time when Covid-safe activities have been hard to find, the community has both swelled and been grateful. At the beginning of the Safarmi wave nearly all comments to Erin at the admission gate were, “Thank you! Thank you for giving us something safe to do with our families and getting our kids out of the house!!!” For a great many parents, the Safarmi was not only a welcome break, but also a fun memory with their kids, as many children would be sitting on laps and ‘driving’ vehicles or standing with heads through sunroofs to get panoramic views.
Pre-Covid, students would enjoy the live milking demonstrations from the theatre bleachers.
For the Andersons, the setup is easier and they can welcome many more guests than an average on-foot tour, but the educational value of the tour has been seriously impacted. Before Covid, the guests would go on a guided tour with Brian and Erin, learning about the life of a cow from birth to death, the milking process throughout the years and how the modern dairy industry is structured. At each turn, the public is encouraged to ask questions which Brian and Erin answer, often at the end of each tour over a refreshing glass of chocolate milk. The Safarmi version of the tour is incapable of delivering that personal element and while they still try to provide educational content for the guests in the form of a read-along narrative on their website, it is up to individuals to read the information! Of that, Erin says, “It is obvious who follows the read-along and who doesn’t; if they have followed along they might stop and ask some in depth questions, if not they often miss certain things along the course.” Now, with the volume of customers at a more stable level and people spending a lot of time adoring the animals, comments will often be made, “Your animals are so well cared for,” to which Erin responds “Thank you, we are just giving you the average representation of the dairy industry.”
The Safarmi rolls on welcoming the public three days a week for the summer season with plans to continue through the fall tour season as well. Eventually, Brian and Erin are hoping to return to traditional tours when they feel comfortable and provincial health guidelines permit. Post- Covid though, Safarmi might make a reappearance as something a little more novel, as Erin said, “Our visitors enjoy it, we enjoy it, it’s fun to be doing something different that can bring in new audiences and ideas.”
Photo: Erin Anderson
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