Agritourism is a great way to augment farm income, but there are risks. When you invite people onto your land, bad things can sometimes happen. This story about a young couple and their newborn who got lost in a Massachusetts corn maze has made national news.
Thankfully, no one was hurt. It’s not like there was a hungry minotaur running loose in the maze asking unanswerable riddles or something. This young couple is probably just mortified. I’d be.
This is a good example to pass along to farmer clients nevertheless. Getting lost in a corn maze is the least painful way to have a bad agritourism experience. Worse can happen. Goats can bite your customers. Kids can get snagged on rusty equipment. People can trip in drainage ditches, or fall drunkenly from the haunted hayride tractor.
Like any other agricultural endeavor, agritourism requires its own risk management plan. Waivers and disclaimers are useful legal tools to mitigate risks to people, but they have their limits. Some states have special laws protecting farmers from agritourism liability as well (South Carolina is one such example among many, cite S.C. Code Ann. § 46-53-20 (2010)).
Sometimes, the farm owner needs to use some common sense and some customer control. For example:
Rule #1: No newborns in the damn corn maze. If your umbilical cord has not fallen off yet, come back next year.
Rule #2: Keep the corn mazes to a minimum of 80 acres. It is no longer charming after two hours of dead-ends.
Rule #3: Hand out sharpened machetes to all customers so they can frantically hack and slash their way through the maze if they become disoriented and panicky. Actually, that is a terrible idea.
Improved Rule #3: Give everyone that goes into the maze a loop of rope or some other cheap but distinctive token to carry through to the other end. At the close of the business day, count the number of distinctive tokens. If the number of tokens is less than what you started out with in the morning, it’s time to check the maze for stragglers.
All jokes aside, once you invite people onto your land, they are your responsibility. Ensuring that agritourists have a safe visit isn’t just good business, it’s good risk management.