State's COVID-19 guidelines for agritourism farms could devastate industry this fall

Fall is just around the corner in time for picking pumpkins and sitting by a campfire. Families have made trips to agritourism farms a fall tradition for generations.

Fall is also a time many agritourism farms are depending on to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, new state guidelines in efforts to reduce coronavirus exposure could sideline those family traditions, ultimately becoming costly for businesses in the industry.

The new rules apply to agritourism farms in 34 counties that have progressed past Phase One of the Safe Start Washington plan. The restricted agritourism activities include wagon rides, haunted houses, petting areas, animal viewing or campfires.

Joanne Templeman, owner of Maris Farms in Buckely said a lot of the guidelines are unfair.

“They’ve said no playground activities but currently playgrounds are all over the place with no sanitation or attendance measures or limits,” said Templeman. “They prohibit animal viewing and animal petting. Well, we can take away the animal petting, but you can go to a zoo and do animal viewing. Why can’t farms do that?”

Templeman said state officials consulted her farm for input on the guideline draft. She said she was disappointed when none of her suggestions were reflected in the end result. A representative from the governor’s office said even in wide outdoor spaces, the health department suggests avoiding lingering crowds that could potentially increase the risk of exposure.

“Normally in October, we have a couple weekends where it can be very crowded. But we also have the ability to limit because we can do online sales and cap the sales at a certain number per hour and that would address the overcrowding,” said Templeman.

Primary activities like “U-Cut, U-Pick” and pumpkin patches are about the only thing guests can do. Templeman said with so few options, she will be lucky if the farm can make 25 percent of revenue in October, their busiest month.

A representative from the governor’s office said staff is meeting with a group of farmers in Snohomish and Kittitas counties to take another look at the new rules.

“Hopefully, it can be reconsidered and revised so it is a more workable plan that doesn’t shut down 90 percent of agritainment’s revenue possibility and also gives the public an option to come out and do some fun stuff,” said Templeman.

The state’s agritourism rules are currently in effect. Any farm that breaks the rule could face a $10,000 fine.

“With whatever we are going to offer, if you’re able to get a ticket, you’ll come here and you’ll have a safe experience and hopefully a really lovely time,” said Templeman. “We all take COVID seriously. And none of us want to see a loved one or have anybody go home with anything other than a pumpkin.”