Inslee relaxes COVID-19 restrictions on Agritourism

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Washington’s agritourism farms got a lift Friday as Gov. Jay Inslee relaxed rules that would have prohibited hay rides, animal exhibits, playgrounds and other attractions.

Rather than banning the activities, the revised rules give farms instructions on safeguarding customers from the coronavirus.

Some features, such as petting animals, still won’t be allowed, but operators regained most activities, Washington Farm Bureau director of government affairs Tom Davis said.

“From the farmers we’ve been talking to, this will be enough to stay afloat,” he said.

The new COVID-19 guidelines were issued eight days after the governor prohibited nearly all agritourism activities outside pumpkin patches and U-pick farms. Farmers asked the governor’s office to reconsider some restrictions.

Farmers said they already were poised to give families a safe, and badly needed, outing by stockpiling masks and hand sanitizer, planning for social distancing and canceling some activities such as corn bins.

The governor’s office apparently issued the first set of rules with little consultation with farms and with short notice before the peak agritourism season.

Agritourism operator Hilary Huffman, owner of The Patch in Ellensburg, Wash., said the governor’s office was receptive to suggestions and willing to make changes in time for the fall harvest.

Under the original rules, Huffman said she might have had to cancel the season and perhaps close the business.

“For us, personally, this is a game-changer. We’re looking forward to a great season and to many years to come,” Huffman said.

The rules include requiring customers wear masks. People from different households must stay 6 feet apart. Formerly banned activities that are now allowed have their own set of rules.

For example, playgrounds will operate at 50% capacity. Bonfires will be limited to members of one household, plus five other people. Rules for corn mazes and outdoor haunted houses were added.

“We had conversations with stakeholders and were comfortable with their commitments to operate safely,” a governor’s spokeswoman said in an email.

Snohomish County agritourism operators were at the forefront of suggesting ways for farms to hold activities.

County officials and the governor’s office were “kind, respectful and attentive and very willing to work with us to implement these changes,” said Sarah Ricci of Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm.

“We got exactly what we asked for,” she said. “We’re ready for visitors.”

The governor’s office has issued COVID-19 rules for many types of businesses. The reaction to the agritourism rules was particularly strong, said Moses Lake Sen. Judy Warnick, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate agriculture committee.

“I heard from several people in my district concerned about it,” she said. “It was going to have too much of an impact, especially on the smaller folks.

“I’m glad (Inslee) reconsidered his guidelines,” Warnick said.

The revision was relatively swift and sweeping. The discussion with the governor’s office was atypically non-political and instead focused on policy, said Davis of the Farm Bureau. “I think that allowed for a good conversation and outcome.”

 

 

Posted By: Capital Press

Posted On: August 29, 2020