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Karen Paulus of Paulus Mt. Airy Orchards explains how limiting civil liability for agritourism would protect her farm from lawsuits over factors beyond her control during a press conference Sept. 10. Behind her, from left, are state Rep. Barb Gleim, prime sponsor of House Bill 1348, and state Rep. Danilo Burgos, a co-sponsor.

The family activities at Grim’s Orchard & Family Farms in Breinigsville, Lehigh County, go nearly year round.

"We're going strong through November," said Josh Grim, who supports a Pennsylvania bill that would give on-farm activities, called agritourism, some protection against frivolous lawsuits.

On Sept. 10, the Farm Bureau of Pennsylvania held a press conference at Paulus Mt. Airy Orchards in Dillsburg, York County, calling for the General Assembly to move Pennsylvania House Bill No. 1348 forward. The bill would grant farms that offer agritourism activities reasonable protection from civil lawsuits arising from events such as corn mazes and  pick your own pumpkins. 

The bill, which originated eight years ago and has bipartisan support in the House, according to lawmakers, is about providing commonsense liability protection from civil lawsuits arising from circumstances beyond their control.

“Agritourism is a win-win for farmers who want to diversify their businesses and for community members who want to connect with local farms through fun activities,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert. “But the threat of frivolous lawsuits is a significant barrier for farmers who want to begin or continue inviting the public onto their farms," he said Thursday.

Farmers would reap the benefits of diversified income, while also taking steps to ensure the safety of visitors. such as providing lots of signage. At the same time, farm visitors have to assume some risk, such as tripping on vines in a natural pumpkin patch, officials said.

Grim said he's had to change insurance companies a couple of times in recent years just to find liability coverage for the many family activities he and his wife, Josie, operate.

"As we add more activities, insurance companies are not happy," said Grim, who just added The Great Potato Dig, in which visitors dig potatoes by the bag and have them turned into French fries on the spot.

Grim's Fall Festival, going on now through Nov. 1, includes dozens of activities, from a hay ride and corn maze to crop and flower picking, along with a bakery and pulled pork. In November and December, there will be salsa, bonfires and flights of hard cider, he said. 

"Companies might be more comfortable insuring 'agritainment' if the bill were passed," Grim said Friday. 

Adding new activities each year boosts the appeal of Grim's Fall Festival and the Dirty Boot Farm Market, he said. Farmers have to do it to stay relevant and keep the customers coming.

State Rep. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland County) is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1348. Also present at Thursday's press conference were state Rep. Danilo Burgos (D-Philadelphia), a co-sponsor of the bill; and Karen Paulus, owner of Paulus Mt. Airy Orchards, which offers a corn maze, pick- your-own apples and pumpkins and kids’ activities.

Essentially, the bill would limit agritourism operations’ exposure to lawsuits over factors beyond their control. These farms take steps  to ensure guests are safe but, because they’re largely natural environments, there are a lot of factors they can’t influence, like weather. 

To receive the protections offered by House Bill 1348, farms would have to warn visitors of potential risks by either having them sign a waiver or printing a disclaimer on a ticket or other material that’s given to visitors.

More farmers are adding agritourism activities to generate new “on the farm” income or diversifying their operations to increase revenue to combat losses from depressed milk prices and stagnant grain prices. 

Agritourism is also one of the ways the Farm Bureau is helping more experienced farmers transition their farms to the next generation. 

"The creativity is easy; it's the energy and follow-through that's challenging," said Grim, whose 82-year-old mother helps out in the doughnut shop during fall festival.

The Farm Bureau advocates for passage of several bills designed to remove obstacles from farmers looking to create new agritourism opportunities, said Ebert, who is a farmer himself.

In 2019, Ebert said he added sheep to what had been his dairy and crop farm and his future plans call for adding a high tunnel to grow vegetables to sell to local restaurants. 

"We want people to come out and have fun and make memories," said Paulus of Mt. Airy Orchards.

But along with those visits comes an "inherent risk" of exposure to insects, weather and falls from traversing uneven farm fields, she said.

Other common hazards including fallen apples in the orchard, and washouts from heavy rain, Grim said.

"We just want help for things beyond our control," Paulus said.

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