Updated: September 01, 2020 11:20 PM
Created: September 01, 2020 11:17 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester area farms planning to host tourists for Halloween hayrides and autumn apple picking declared themselves ready to comply with new rules for agritourism businesses.
Ready, and way ahead of the state.
“We have been thinking about this for a long time,” declared Evan Schutt, owner of Schutt’s Apple Mill in Webster. “Even though it just did come down today, I think we have a pretty good plan in place to hopefully help have everyone a great experience.”
Schutt said when the apple picking season kicks in, in about two weeks, his business will be more spread out, including a new outdoor market in its parking lot to prevent crowding in the store, discounts to encourage customers to come during the week and at least 40 boxes of about 20,000 gloves for people to pick up their produce.
On Tuesday, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets unveiled a series of guidelines for agritourism as the industry entered its crucial fall months.
“Our fall business is a very short season,” explained Suzanne Stokoe, owner of Stokoe farms in Scottsville. “It is seven weekends. It’s highly weather dependent and now we have to decrease our capacity by two-thirds. So it is going to be a very difficult season for people in the fall.”
The new state standards mandates that businesses have no more than 33% occupancy.
Corn mazes, haunted houses and hayrides can operate with reduced capacity, although two of the area's biggest haunted hayrides, in Williamson and at VerHulst Cobble Creek Farms in Spencerport have already been canceled.
Frequently touched surfaces must be sanitized.
Petting zoos will not be allowed. That's a surprise at Stokoe farms in Scottsville, which offers animal encounters and has been working on its own plans, with a careful eye on a fragile bottom line.
“There is that increased cost,” Stokoe said. “And that is going to be coupled along with our greatly reduced capacity.”
Schutt agreed, pointing out that he already had plans to hire 15 extra employees to help service visitors over a more diffuse area, a 20% increase in staff size.
"So not only are we going to probably be cutting our sales but we are also going to be increasing our payroll,” he said.
Can the business handle that?
“We are going to see," he said.
Some businesses like Wickham Farms in Penfield are offering “more” attractions, like a new extra-wide slide, to give guests room to spread out.
Schutt’s, for the first time, is starting its long-planned apple picking activity so customers can socially distance as they stroll and pick over 8 spread-out acres of orchard.
Schutt said he had high hopes for the apple picking season bringing out big crowds suffering from coronavirus cabin fever and ready to enjoy outdoor harvest time fun. He noted that despite 2020 turning into a terrible year for cherries, the cherry-picking season brought blockbuster crowds, as has strawberry picking at other farms.
"Certain agritourism could really boom right now if you're smart about it, and if you market it correctly,” he said, “because people are looking for things to do that are outside and safer.”
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