Has it been a while since you’ve been to the farm? Have you ever been to a farm? No worries. Farms are fun and incredibly interesting, but their rules are way different from office rules.

Leave your pet in the car — or, better yet, leave your pet at home. The last thing you want is to have to pay for the limp chicken that your sweet golden retriever just retrieved.

Call first. Farmers are busy and don’t work regular hours, so don’t expect them to be there if you drop by unexpectedly. Ask about convenient times to stop by, or check the farm’s website (yes, some farms have them) for visitor hours.

Bring cash. Or while you’re on the phone asking about hours, inquire about what kind of payment the farmer prefers. Many farmers aren’t set up to take credit cards. And don’t be surprised if you encounter the honor system. Many farm stands are completely unstaffed. At the farm that provides my eggs and pork, I leave money in a mason jar on top of a refrigerator.

When in doubt, ask permission. Can you feed the chickens? Can you stroll through the tomato fields? Can your child poke around the barn? Remember, a farm is not only someone’s home but also someone’s livelihood. Farms also have potentially dangerous stuff around, such as barbed wire fences or heavy machinery. Don’t let your kids wander unattended.

Keep your distance from livestock. Some farms may offer a chance for dudes to mingle with live animals, but don’t touch or feed the animals (this goes for farm dogs, too) unless otherwise instructed. Also, contain your enthusiasm; yelling could stress the animals. Believe it or not, pigs do not enjoy it when you shriek “su-eeeee” over and over.

Wear sensible shoes. It almost goes without saying, but farms may have not only dirt but also livestock poop. Some sort of rubber boot works best, especially if it’s mud season. I once brought along a friend who didn’t change out of her purple suede boots. It was a muddy day. You can see where this is going.

Mind the fences. Some fences are electric. The jolt won’t kill you, but your startle response might provide secret amusement for the farmer. “We don’t mind if people touch the fences,” Dominic Palumbo of Moon in the Pond Farm once told me dryly. “That’s how we know they’re on.” While we’re on the subject of fences, here’s a note about gates: If you open one, close it behind you.

Depending on the farm’s protocols, you may be asked to wash your hands or sanitize your footwear if you’ll be interacting with certain livestock. It’s a good idea to wash your hands after being around livestock. See poop, above.

Leave your farmer stereotypes at home. The old man in the straw hat and overalls with the pitchfork? I’ve never met him. My farmers, many of them women, are young, hip, educated, and technologically savvy. Sean Stanton, my egg supplier, has a cell phone with a rooster ring tone.

Speaking of cell phones, turn yours off. “It’s respectful,” says CSA farmer Elizabeth Keen. “People don’t come to the country to listen to other people talk on cell phones.”

What do you do if you are approached by cattle? Roll into a ball and cover your head. Just joking! Cows have approached me and nothing happened. I didn’t try to pet them but moved away slowly. If you abide by the rules of a farm and respect the fences, the likelihood that you’ll encounter a cow or some other stray livestock is low. If you need to, push the cow away at the shoulder. Feel threatened? Run. A cow will generally not give chase. Remember that bulls (male cattle, as evidenced by testicles) can be aggressive, but also remember that not all cattle with horns are bulls. Some breeds of cows have horns, and all cows can be protective of calves — so stay away from cute little cow babies even if they appear to be alone. Chances are, momma is nearby. 

Eat Where You Live book cover"Eat Where You Live" 

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From "Eat Where You Live", Copyright © 2008 by Lou Bendrick. Used by arrangement with The Mountaineers Books.