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  • Erin Holliday

On-Farm Activities? Legal Protections to Put in Place

You may have heard the word ‘agritourism’ when it comes to having people on your farm for events. But what agritourism actually is (and what it’s not), and how it’s regulated (and not) can be somewhat confusing. And navigating the legal protections you have and don’t have, and what you need to do to make sure you’re keeping your farm operation and business safe can be quite the corn maze. We’re here to help you understand a little more about it, and some considerations if you’re interested in bringing agritourism to your farm.

Generally speaking, agritourism refers to when an agriculture business combines with tourism – bringing spectators, visitors, and interested people onto the farm, ranch, or other ag business for the purpose of entertaining, educating, or experiencing the farm. Think apple picking, hay rides, petting zoos, and so much more. Not so generally speaking, it can be a little more complex than this. Many states and localities have adopted specific definitions of what agritourism is (and what it isn’t) so it’s important to know what is covered in the laws that affect you, and what you need to do to shield yourself from legal liability. Below are a few areas to know about related to this, and other protections.

1. Do you Have Any State Agritourism Limited Liability Laws?

Many states have adopted specific agritourism limited liability laws to build structure around this growing segment of a farm business, and to better protect farmers who want to supplement their farm’s offerings.

In Pennsylvania, “agritourism activity” is defined as "a farm-related tourism or farm-related entertainment activity that takes place on agricultural land and allows members of the general public, whether or not for a fee, to tour, explore, observe, learn about, participate in or be entertained by an aspect of agricultural production, harvesting, husbandry, or rural lifestyle that occurs on the farm.” This definition does not include weddings, overnight accommodations, concerts, among others. You may be able to do these things on your farm (see below), you just won’t be protected under this law (but you still hopefully have your entity protection and good insurance right?:)). Pennsylvania’s limited liability law helps to protect farmers who engage in agritourism from major liability if they follow certain requirements outlined in the law, such as posting signage and having a written agreement. Our blog post Pennsylvania’s New Agritourism Limited Liability Law and What it Means for Farmers covers this specific state law and how farmers can build protections under it. Pennsylvania also has u-pick and equine-specific liability laws. If you’re in another state, it’s definitely worth seeing what, if any, statutory protections exist that can better protect your farm business and guests.

2. What are the Zoning Requirements and Regulations of Your Land?

Properties are often regulated by a municipality, township, or county, depending on the size, location, and how your area is set up. Certain rules, called zoning rules, regulate how a property can be used and how it can’t be used. Many pass regulations for what uses are and are not included in parcels of land that are zoned for agriculture. Some say agritourism can’t happen at all, others outline specific agritourism “can and can’t do’s.” And some say nothing about it. Others list permitted activities but don’t ever explicitly come out and call it agritourism – things like on-farm sales, hay rides, you-pick visitors (think apple, pumpkin, berry, Christmas trees, etc.), etc. In addition to permitted uses, zoning rules also list other requirements if having agritourism on your farm is allowed. For example, you may need certain signage, a certain number of parking spaces or accessibility requirements, or even permits and approvals. Zoning rules and procedures can often be tedious and confusing, so we definitely recommend working with an attorney to understand this area better.

3. Get it in Writing! Signage, Contracts, Waivers, Etc.

As explained above, some aspects of agritourism liability laws, or other rules and regulations, may already require you to put up signage or writings (like a ticket or contract) outlining the risks. But even if these aren’t required in your state or what you want to do on your farm isn’t covered by these laws, it’s a very good idea to have a contract or writing between your guests and your business, your vendors, and others. Having clear waivers, contracts, and signage on your farm can help protect your business and communicate what you want to make clear. Here are a few examples:

  • Vendors. If you’re working with any type of vendor on-site, you will want a contract with them that makes the terms of your relationship clear. For example, maybe you bring an old-fashioned kettle corn company to pop fresh kernels right on site. You’ll want a contract with that vendor that makes it clear your farm will not be liable for the guests at the farm, that they have insurance, and other considerations.

  • Activity Liability Waivers. If you’re doing specific activities on your farm, like horseback riding or kids’ play structures, having activity waivers is very important to make sure those participating understand the risks and they can limit your potential liability. If you have minors on your farm, you will need a parental consent form.

  • Events client contract. If you’re serving as a venue for hosting events like weddings or on-farm dinners, you will want a contract identifying what is included in your services and where on the property they will have access, liability related to event guests, general rules you require them to follow, and other items.

4. What Other Laws and Regulations Affect My Operation?

There are other laws that may be relevant and applicable to the type of business you seek to do.

If you are holding public events, they must be accessible to individuals with disabilities as well, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Read more in our blog post here. Other legal requirements may have to do with your industry and what you’re doing, like the animal welfare act if animals are involved or the food code or on-farm food regulations depending on what you’re serving/selling. Work with your attorney to make sure you’re complying with what is applicable to your business and property.

5. How Else Can I Protect My Agritourism Operation?

There are so many more ways you can protect your farm business from liability if you’re thinking about bringing in visitors and thus, opening the door to additional potential liabilities. Here are a few other things to think about:

  • Work with your insurance advisor to make sure your insurance coverage actually protects you from the type of business you’re doing. A typical farm insurance policy does not automatically cover on-site guests or on-farm activities. They’ll help you understand when to add short-term riders for specific events or change your coverage completely.

  • If you’re utilizing your land for state or federal tax benefits, such as Pennsylvania’s clean and green, work with your accountant to make sure the intended use doesn’t eliminate or change your status under those benefits.

  • There are certainly strategic ways to separate your land from the on-site liability you may potentially bring on with a different use. Work with an attorney to understand entity and leasing options like LLCs and how you can separate farm business from agritourism business from your land. Read our blog post about separating land and liability here.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.

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