Newly released guidelines offer Illinois agritourism and U-pick businesses recommendations to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Developed by a working group of agritourism businesses, University of Illinois Extension, Illinois Farm Bureau and Illinois Specialty Growers Association, the information toolkit focuses on businesses and customers, said Raghela Scavuzzo, IFB associate director of food systems development. Information includes professional signs that may be posted at businesses. Visit specialtygrowers.org/covid19.

As Illinoisans seek farm experiences, vegetables and fruits are reaching peak season and fall activities are only weeks away.

“I’ve traveled to farms throughout Illinois as part of our Cultivating Our Communities campaign, and I’ve seen firsthand how our farmers and growers are prioritizing the safety of their customers and their employees,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton told FarmWeek.

“Summer is not canceled. I believe our local farms have so much to offer as destinations to visit and to support our businesses,” the lieutenant governor continued. “But that support must be done safely in a COVID-conscious way by washing our hands regularly, wearing our masks and practicing safe social distancing.”

Scavuzzo emphasized the new guidelines are recommendations not requirements and may change as government regulations evolve. Much of the focus is geared toward fall, but many of the recommendations may be used now, she added.

One of the top considerations? Visitor capacity, Scavuzzo said. “If you can, move customers to off-peak hours” to spread out the number of people present at one time, she suggested.

For example, use reservations or tickets to limit the number of people and the amount of time, such as one to two hours. Recently, Triple M Farms at Clinton, began offering reservations for private evening U-picking experiences after too many people arrived on Saturdays to pick strawberries.

Scavuzzo recommended considering the number of people who could be safely accommodated in a field, orchard or on-farm store to maintain social distancing. She added sufficient staff will be needed to properly sanitize frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and counters.

Growers should follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for stores, restaurants and transportation, Scavuzzo said. Those guidelines include wearing face coverings, plexiglass shields and customers staying 6 feet apart.

Directing foot traffic to separate entrances and exits will help with social distancing and maintaining more even traffic flow.

Growers may want to look at traditional experiences, such as play structures, with fresh eyes. While a corn maze probably would offer enough space for social distancing, Scavuzzo questioned whether a bouncy house would.

The public is being encouraged to call ahead or check operations’ websites or Facebook pages for rules, Scavuzzo said. She added businesses need to keep their websites and Facebook pages up to date with the latest information for customers.

People also need to be patient, especially if there are lines, and understanding, she said.

“This (change) is really hard on agritourism businesses,” Scavuzzo said. “They’re focused on agritourism and they’re trying to still create an experience. This change makes them feel less than comfortable.”