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Food & Farming | July 29, 2010 | By Jim Sluyter

Jimmy Spencer, of Pond Hill Farm, near Harbor Springs, explains hoophouse management during a Fall, 2009 tour.There is simply nothing like a farm tour as a learning tool for growers. I don’t really care if you are a farmer wannabe, a beginner, or a veteran with years of experience. There is always something to learn.

And the best people to learn from are others in the same business with plenty of practical knowledge.

And something else I have discovered: No matter how many farms you visit, there is always something more to learn, always a new idea.

But here’s a vexing problem: The best time to visit a farm is during your-and the host farmer’s-busiest time: right in the middle of the growing season.

My early experiences with farm tours included one that I did not want to go to, for exactly that reason. A colleague in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) conducted it; she coaxed a bunch of us to get together to talk things over and visit each other’s farms.

I was quite busy with my own operation, and very reluctant to take time out to make the trips. But I did, anyway, and I was really glad I did.

You see, every trip yields new information, or a solution to a puzzling problem, or sometimes a way around a snag I haven’t even gotten to yet. Over the years, farm tours have taught me things I need to know about pest control, plant disease, farm animals, marketing strategies, and much more.

It isn’t all about problem solving, either. Sometimes you learn a new technique or get a good, or bad, tool or equipment review.

And a farm tour is a great way to meet fellow farmers, or get to know them better.  Besides, they are usually just plain fun!

So why am I trying so hard to talk you into going on farm tours? Because Get Farming! has two more of them scheduled this season and we have plenty of room for more participants.

We will visit Ware Farm in Manistee County on Monday, August 2 at 1:00 p.m.  Five Springs Farm, another Manistee County farm is on the list for Sunday, September 12 at 1:00 p.m.

Learn more and find maps to the farms at the Get Farming! workshop website, or contact me at 231-941-6584 or jimsluyter@mlui.org.

Jim Sluyter, who worked the land at Five Springs Farm for 15, manages the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming! program.