As fall approaches, governor announces guidelines for agritourism

While the coronavirus pandemic may have canceled many fun summer events, fall lovers can rejoice.

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued guidelines that will permit agritourism businesses — corn mazes, haunted houses, hay rides and U-pick — to operate this season.

“New York State’s amazing outdoor attractions and recreational opportunities are a boon for families and communities during the fall season each year, and we want New Yorkers to be able to enjoy this time with their family responsibly and safely,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.

According to a document published by NY State Ag & Markets, the guidance will also apply to U-Pick Christmas tree farms as well.

The businesses are considered “low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment,” Mr. Cuomo said, and must comply with protocols that require patrons to wear masks and operate at reduced capacities.

Hay rides must comply with social distancing of six feet between groups and sanitize high-touch surfaces like handrails between each ride.

Corn mazes are limited to no more than 33% and haunted houses can operate at no more than 25% capacity, according to interim guidelines issued by the state Department of Health.

U-Pick fields are required to comply with social distancing guidelines, with officials noting that visitors must not consume or dispose of apples in orchards.

Food may be allowed in accordance with other guidelines issued by the health department, but live concerts and petting zoos are still prohibited.

Long Island Farm Bureau administrative director Rob Carpenter said Thursday that while he’s glad to see guidance issued formally, there are still uncertainties that local farmers must grapple with.

“One question that’s come up is how you deal with a number of people that are outside in an open field,” Mr. Carpenter said, noting that capacity and distancing may be different if a farmer has a 30- or 40-acre field.

As the summer winds down, Mr. Carpenter said many farms have already been operating with these guidelines.

“Farmers are taking this very seriously and doing their absolute best to be in compliance with masks and distancing,” he said. “Many operations have set themselves up to be that way so you have plenty of space in between people.”

Mike Meola, who runs the Darkside Haunted House in Wading River, said Friday that the pandemic presents new challenges in every aspect of the haunt, from the logistics to costuming and makeup. 

“We can’t really do what we normally do,” Mr. Meola said, referring to the level of interaction between actors and guests. “So we’re trying to be innovative.”

In addition to requiring masks for both guests and employees, adjustments are being made to the attraction to ensure six-foot distancing can be maintained. Group size will be limited and reservations must be made in advance, Mr. Meola said, adding that fog machines will also be eliminated and the haunt will be sanitized daily.

Mr. Meola said he was relieved to see haunted houses specifically addressed in the governor’s guidelines and is happy to sacrifice what he must.

“This year has been extremely rough,” Mr. Meola said, explaining that he lost his mom — who nurtured his love of Halloween — to COVID-19. “We’re taking the safety of our actors and patrons 100% seriously,” he said.

As visitors flock to pick apples and pumpkins, the governor also urged people to visit craft beverage businesses statewide, which are also able to operate with health guidelines in place.

State agriculture commissioner Richard Ball said he hopes the new guidelines will allow New Yorkers to feel safe about visiting farms. “This year, while things may not look exactly the same on your favorite farm, I am happy to say we can still celebrate agriculture’s bounty and the many family-friendly activities that go with it,” Mr. Ball said in a statement.