We received an email this week from an Agritourism business owner asking about Field Trips so I decided that would be a good topic for this week’s article. Field Trips can add another great revenue stream to our existing business but it isn’t for the faint of heart. To be successful you need to be very intentional and organized when it comes to all aspects of Field Trip scheduling and execution. Here are some things to consider when thinking about or implementing an effective Field Trip program.
*For copies of any of the materials we mention below that we used at our venue, just email the request to firstname.lastname@example.org
1. What will you teach about?
The first thing you need to do is to create a list of all the topics you feel you could teach to kids of all ages through an interactive and interesting 15 - 20 minute class. As farmers, this list could get pretty long so start with that main thing you are known for as a farm. An orchard would have a class around whatever fruit they grow, a dairy farm may be around milk production, a corn maze could be all about corn and its uses, an organic vegetable producer would talk about the advantages of eating organic, and so on.
I have always found it helpful to have 3 educational lessons for the teachers to choose from. That way the kids are not getting the same thing every year. In the years we have done field trips, our topics have included apples, bees, corn, pigs, chickens, cows, and more. All things that we either already had at the farm or could incorporate for the year with little effort or expense.
Be sure whomever you have teaching your classes are presenting in a fun and interactive manner to keep the kids attention. Don’t stand up there and just spout facts. Give them things to touch or experience. Give out fun prizes for answering questions correctly. Be high energy!
2. Are field trips only for the fall?
The vast majority of field trips in Agritourism are offered in the fall. That is when our other Agritourism activities are in full swing, pumpkins are ripe, corn has grown, and we have our seasonal staff already hired and working.
That does not mean that is the only time we can or should offer field trips. Maybe you are a Christmas Tree farm or other non-fall venue. You may have a different peak season that (as long as it is during the school year) would also lend itself to an awesome field trip experience.
Also, for those fall venues, once you have established that you are an outstanding fall field trip destination, use those relationships that you have established with the schools and teachers to promote spring field trips. Have them come plant some corn seeds that will become part of your corn maze or teach them about pruning your orchards or anything else that you may take for granted as a normal spring activity around the farm that school students would find great value in.
3. What age should I market to?
This will depend on a few factors. The normal target is elementary school students. They are the prime target market for agriculture based field trips. This will indeed be the “bread and butter” of your field trips and if you live in a highly populated area with low competition, you may hit your max capacity just in this demographic.
If you have vacancies in your field trip schedule that you would like to fill, you can consider increasing your age range into junior high and even high school. I have found this to be very difficult to “sell” to the public schools as by that age, they don’t typically budget for field trips in the normal sense. However, we have seen solid success in this area by marketing to Christian schools & Homeschool groups.
You may have to make adjustments such as customizing your educational program, and altering the activities you have them participate in. We found success in offering a team building program. In addition to the educational topic they chose, we would run team building games that were appropriate for their age group.
Other groups you can target outside your elementary school classes are pre-schools, mommy groups, special needs groups, and other youth organizations.
4. What are teachers looking for?
Teachers are looking for several things and believe it not, your educational offering may not be at the top of their list. Some of the other key things they are looking for in a successful field trip are:
Great communication through the entire process from marketing, to booking, to answering any questions along the way.
An organized trip. Nothing frustrates teachers more than having to keep their classes in holding areas with nothing to do or not knowing what is coming next. Be very clear with the length of time their trip will last and the exact time frame of each and every piece of their trip. Email them a schedule ahead of time and hand them a paper copy when they arrive.
Keep things moving. Don’t book a group for an hour for something that will only keep a 3rd graders attention for 20 minutes max. Keep your educational lesson interactive, interesting and appropriately short.
Make sure all the details for their lunch are spelled out clearly ahead of time. When lunch will be, what food is offered or provided by you if anything and all associated costs.
If you will have other things for sale, be sure the teachers know so that you can schedule 15 minutes in your store or not schedule it at all based on their wishes.
Strong, vocal, positive staff to help them move their class from activity to activity and help keep the troops in line.
What, if anything, will be sent home with the kids so they are aware of how to manage getting those items from the bus to their ride home from school.
5. What should my field trip package include?
A typical field trip package will include things such as a hayride, a small pumpkin or other giveaway, an educational lesson, age appropriate activities, and a time for kids to eat their lunch (that pumpkin or other giveaway is an important marketing tool). The more creative you can make your package the more interest that will be generated. Also, customizations or package alternatives are attractive to the teachers as well. If they can mold a field trip into what they think will be best for their timeframe and age group, the more apt they will be to book with you year after year.
6. How long should my field trips be?
This should be reversed engineered in some respect. Start with your basic package you want to offer and figure out how much time each activity will require. Things like hayrides are easy to calculate as you already know how long it takes to do your typical loop. Things like time on your Jumping Pillow or in a corn maze can be more difficult to estimate. The key is to find that sweet spot where they have just enough time to enjoy that activity but not enough time to start to get bored or mischievous.
For us, our basic package was a 2-hour field trip plus time for lunch. You will find that teachers will likely tell you how long they can be there so flexibility to what you offer is important.
7. What do you need at your site?
A “classroom” area. Ideally this will be setup in an area away from all the noise and major distractions. We typically like to setup some hay bleachers in our barn or other quiet area.
Be sure you have staff that can command attention and respect while staying pleasant and fun. Also, enough staff to keep all areas and groups rotating through their designated areas like clockwork.
Have enough activities at a minimum that can keep a group active for 2 hours. That breaks down to six 20 minute stations. This could be comprised of a hayride, corn maze (40 minutes?), hay pyramid, play area, store, etc. but have other option available for those trips that would like to spend longer at your farm.
Enough bathrooms and hand washing stations to cover your peak capacity (and the staff to keep them clean)
8. How much should I charge?
This question is hard to answer as each school district has their budgets and limits. Before you can answer this with confidence, you need to do some homework. Find teachers in each of your area school districts and ask them questions on how field trip budgets work in their school. While you are at it, ask them other questions like what they look for when considering a field trip and what is the process at their school to have your venue considered?
Also, if you know of other Agritourism businesses in your area that have successful field trip offerings, check out their website for their prices and packages. This will be another way to determine what your area schools are currently paying and what they are getting.
Keep an eye out for where your kids or your friend’s kids are going on field trips and what they are paying for other things such as the zoo or a museum. Whatever you do, make sure your price reflects the value your farm experience is providing.
Don’t wait until the last minute. Often, teachers are planning their field trips right as the school year starts but I have found it better to try to send them information in the spring also to get that seed planted in their head well in advance. Back when I first started, it was rare for the teachers to have their own dedicated email which meant I had to resort to good old fax machine marketing and mailers. I remember setting up a computer to auto-dial and send hundreds of faxes from a list I purchased. Thankfully, getting the word to the teachers is now easier today than ever. Here are a few ideas:
Buy a mailing list. Market Data Retrieval (you will find them under our Field Trip Resources section) has been doing school mailing lists for a very long time. You can get teacher names and email addresses from these lists for whatever area you want to target.
Call or stop by the district office: Introduce yourselves to the folks at the main district office for each district you want to target. Bring them a pie or some cider apple donuts and simply introduce yourself and your farm. Ask them the best way for you to get the field trip information to their teachers. You will be surprised how far food bribery will get you. Some of them have internal mailing systems and may be willing to include your brochure to their teachers.
Facebook Ads. We will be spending time on Facebook ads on our site in the near future but this is a powerful way to get your information in front of teachers at a very affordable cost. Facebook Ads allow you to target specific areas, interests, occupations, etc. A great tool that every farm should be using for all their Agritourism efforts.
PTA representatives. Ask your school if they will provide you with the contact information of the PTA organization representative. They may publish a newsletter or other media that you can they may be willing to do an article on your farm. They are also a great contact for understanding more behind the school’s field trip decision process.
Teacher Giveaway. While you are at your district office, find out if there is a way to show your appreciation to teachers by sending them something for free. I found that the simple gesture of giving teachers a ticket for free admission to your venue (whether they book a field trip or not) is a great way to show your appreciation to an under-appreciated teacher while letting them know about the great things you offer in the way of field trips and groups outings. They may have a more direct way to contact teachers if you are providing them a free product or service.
Once you have booked a field trip it is very important that you send a detailed confirmation to the teacher. Some of the things that should be on this confirmation are:
Day, Date, Start-Time, End-Time. You will notice I recommend both the day and the date. This provides another check to make sure the date and the day match up. This has saved me on more than one occasion. Start time is a given but the end time confirms that both parties understand what time that bus needs to leave to head back to school.
Payment Terms: We have found that many schools have a lot of red tape when it comes to this. Many ask if they can just bring a check for the full amount on the day of the event. Be flexible. If you cause too much red tape for the teacher, that may influence their decision to book and/or return. I have never had a problem with a school not paying their bill.
Rain Date / Cancellation Policy: Some schools want to come rain or shine, others want to have a pre-determined rain date, and some may have to cancel last minute based on the weather and may not be able to reschedule. This is all part of the fun of running an Agritourism business and being so dependent on the weather. Be sure all your rain dates and cancellation policies are clearly spelled out in your confirmation letter. This is another reason to consider not requiring a deposit from your schools as you will need to issue refund checks for any cancellations and cancellations will happen.
Phone Number. Be sure teachers have a way to reach a live person the morning of the event for any last minute questions, directions, or concerns.
Chaperone counts. Require them to provide chaperones to help with the kids. Stipulate what your requirements are (but be prepared to be flexible). I like to see one chaperone for every 8 students but this will change based on the grade. Make sure this is made clear in your confirmation. We never charged for the chaperones as they are there to make your life easier. There are some cases where you need to specifically limit the number of free chaperones for the event such as homeschool groups which normally consists of entire families. Don’t be afraid to state in your confirmation the max number of chaperones that receive free admission.
Number of students. Your confirmation should also include the number of students expected to attend and the grade levels.
Package price and details. Be sure your price per child as well as the total amount due is clearly outlined in your letter. Include the details about the field trip package with specifics about the activities the kids will be participating in, as well as any materials or things they will be taking home with them such as a pumpkin. Also, be sure to highlight what educational topic they have selected for the trip.
Confirm Lunch. It is a good idea to include what was decided about lunch. It can be a simple line item that says kids will be bringing their own lunches and drinks. If you are providing the meal or even just the drinks, be sure to include that in the confirmation along with any pricing. Also, if you have a concession stand or farm store that will be open, be sure to mention that to the teacher so they are aware in case they want to let their kids or chaperones know.
Dress codes. If you require kids to wear closed toe shoes or want to ask that they kids wear mud boots if it has rained, be sure this is clearly outlined in your letter.
Where the bus should go when they arrive. Here is where you need to detail any special instructions around parking or drop off areas. At my venues, we always asked them to keep the kids on the bus and have their group leader come get checked in and get the schedules. Then our staff returns to the bus and greets the group, goes over any rules, and then leads them to their first activity.
Confirm the confirmation. This is an important step. Sometimes emails end up in the junk mail folder. When you send the confirmation document, in the email you send, ask that the teacher confirm that they indeed received the confirmation. If you don’t get a reply within a couple days, call them to confirm receipt. Getting this document in their hands is critical to assuring no misunderstandings or miscommunications.
Phone call the week before. I found it also to be a good practice to touch base with the teacher the week before the field trip just to confirm that they have the information they need.
11. Return Trip Marketing
Be sure to give a coupon, brochure, or event flyer to all the kids that will hopefully make it home to their families. Field trips can be a great cross-promotional opportunity for getting the kids families or chaperones families to return on the weekends.
This post is getting crazy long and we could go much deeper on many of these topics so look for more around field trips in the future or maybe we will do an entire guide or book around the topic.
If you are interested in getting a copy of what we sent out for a confirmation letter to teachers, a sample schedule for the field trip day, or anything else just email us at email@example.com
Field trips require the person executing them to be super organized in order for you to maximize your capacity while giving everyone a great time. If you are not super organized, don’t try to run this part of your business by yourself. Find a super organized person to help you. You normally only get one shot with teachers. If they come and thinks are chaotic, they will likely not return.
You spend a ton of time getting your venue ready each year. Why not capitalize on those slow weekday operations by adding a field trip offering?