A Post Labor Day School Start

Are task forces pointless? I’m starting to think so. I wish someone would do analysis on how many task forces have been established by our General Assembly and if their recommendations have been implemented into state law. Are they just a way to appease stakeholders, by allowing them to work on a policy issue for months, while legislators just hope the issue dies and go away? Take, for example, a 2014 task force which voted IN FAVOR of starting each school year after Labor Day. Several attempts to push through a bill for post Labor Day start have failed since, even though the new economic benefits are clear for Delaware’s #3 Tourism industry.

In my last blog, I mention an issue regarding labor at our retail produce stand. All of our seasonal help typically returns to school about two weeks before the Labor Day holiday. This includes adults and teenagers. Labor Day is our biggest holiday and August beach traffic has increased the past couple years. Retaining even just a few seasonal employees for an additional week or two would help us tremendously as our family has pick to up the slack over the remaining months of September and October. I assume many other produce operations, especially those with fall agritourism events, encounter the same labor issue in addition to seasonal beach businesses.

Over a month ago, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan took the matter into his own hands and signed an executive order mandating an after Labor Day school start and an end date by June 15 next school year (2017-2018). He cited family, economic, environmental, health benefits from a later start:

  • 75% of Marylander’s support a later start
  • August is the 2nd hottest month in Maryland
  • Baltimore County city has 37 schools with no air conditioning and must close when temperature is over 90 degrees
  • Other schools with air conditioning can reduce energy bill costs in hottest summer months
  • August is the most popular month for family vacations
  • Many students and teachers work at the beach
  • 2013 economic study showed $74 million dollar increase in new economic activity for the tourism industry with later start date
  • Maryland Farm Bureau vocally supported Governor Hogan’s efforts for 2 reasons: seasonal summer labor and MD State Fair youth participation.
  • Peter Franchot, Maryland’s Comptroller started a campaign called, “Let Summer Be Summer

I love Gov. Hogan’s recent remarks about his decision to move forward on this issue. He called out the media, the commission that studied it, and MD legislators for not getting it done. Impressive. You have to watch this video.

Without a Republican Governor, I’m pretty certain Delaware won’t mandate this through an executive order any time soon. So, we’ll keep twiddling our thumbs and wait for legislators to do the right thing for 2 of our biggest industries in Delaware: tourism and agriculture. You can access the final report from the task force below and I’ll point out the letters at the end from constituents as well as the note from the Indian River Superintendent and Board, who decided to respect their business partners and community by starting after Labor Day without being mandated. The task force had legislator, school district, tourism and small business representation; however, no one from the ag industry or our state farm bureau was involved.

0603_001-final-labor-day

Fun on the Farm? No, thank you!

Yesterday’s News Journal article “Fun on the farm is serious business for Delaware Farmers” highlights 3 Delaware agritourism sites and their successes. However, the article states “some farmers have been slow to adapt. First state farmers are even further behind the agritourism trend. The USDA found only 43 of Delaware’s 2,450 farms offer agritourism, producing $453,000 in annual income.”

The missing link to the story is an interview with a farmer who decided not to expand into this market and the reasons why. A simple Google search of “agritourism barriers” will do the trick. But since we’ve looked into it ourselves, I can tell you first hand why the end search result for us has always been a resounding “No, thank you! It’s not worth the risk”!

In Little Wagon’s case, we do our best to get to know our customers and have found over the years that most seem in a hurry to get to their beach destination. We just haven’t had the requests. Beyond the demand issue, what else has kept us from diversifying into this “fun on the farm” business?

  1. Capital-for a small business, how much do we need to invest to make it successful? How soon will it pay off? How do we structure pricing?
  2. Labor-this could be #1. Let’s face it, we struggle terribly by the end of August because our seasonal help goes back to school. September and October are very long months for the family with no help on the schedule. How can we add more fall activities without good help?
  3. Insurance Liability/Safety– on farm activities such as hay mazes, games, petting zoos with live animals only increase concerns around safety. How much will our already high insurance plans increase? Check out the research link on agritourism safety below.
  4. Promotion & Advertising-small businesses just do not have the budget for this. Yes, we can take advantage of free social media all day but additional advertising such as radio spots, local paper ads, and even Facebook advertising can be expensive.
  5. Regulation Compliance-what if we add a gift shop or bathrooms on site? What about the need for hand sanitizing with petting zoos? This will add public health inspections to our regulations list. What about signage along Rt. 404? What about entrances on Rt. 404? How easy do you think obtaining these permits from DOT will be? We’ve kept it simple for all these years and avoided these headaches.

Maybe we need to have more of the “build it and they will come” mentality. The end of the article mentions personality of a farmer and how it can allow a farm business to diversify. I believe this is true but it also depends on risk and how much a farmer (and his family) wants to take on. My research also tells me that more established businesses are less likely to expand. We are closing on our 27th year and Farmer Dan is very conservative. I respect him for not wanting our family to take on more risk. Besides, with low grain prices and drought this summer, where will farmers get the income to diversify? They’re too busy investing, fixing, and babysitting irrigation systems….oh wait, that’s a different kind of “fun on the farm”.

Agritourism Research found and read: