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Chip Terry


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4 min read

FSMA New Rules:  What will change for the Seafood Industry?

By Chip Terry on Oct 1, 2021 12:00:00 PM

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety represents a new approach to food safety, leveraging technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system.

-New Era for Food Safety: Blueprint for the Future, FDA, 2021

The Food Safety Modernization Act is not new.  Congress passed the law in 2011 to give the FDA the ability to initiate mandatory recalls and a host of other powers over the food industry.  In 2020 the FDA issued a major proposed update to the rules: “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety.”  Although the final rules will not be published until 2022, the outlines are clear.  

us-fda_slide-new_era_of_smarter_food_safety1-1

The rule builds on four core elements: Tech-Enabled Traceability, Smarter Tools, Food Safety Culture, and New Business Models. Lots of words and implications. You can read more on the FDA website, but here is our take on what this means for the seafood industry.  

 

The key update is Section 204 designed in the words of the FDA to “harmonize the Key Data Elements and Critical Tracking Events for enhanced traceability.”  The goal is to have end-to-end traceability that can enable tracebacks in seconds--instead of the current system that often fails and generally takes weeks. Here are some of the implications for seafood companies:

  1. Seafood gets special attention:  The FDA ran risk-models on what foods lead to the biggest food safety issues, all seafood (except scallop adductor muscles and catfish) ended up on the list along with leafy greens, eggs and numerous other products. 
  2. New Acronyms (KDE and CTE) get added to HACCP: For most distributors, the system will build on their existing HACCP program by mandating the tracking of Key Data Elements (KDEs) through Critical Tracking Events (CTEs).
  3. Digital is Required:  The mandate is for nearly every participant to provide a sortable spreadsheet to the FDA within 24 hours of request--essentially meaning that most companies must have a digital record.
  4. Lot Codes are Key:  Harvesters are required to put a unique identifier (lot code) on each harvest and that information should travel with the product through the supply chain. 
  5. The First Mile will be the hardest: Harvester/Growers are expected to collect and pass key information (including a lot code) about every harvest to the first buyer.
  6. Interaction with other regulations is unknown: Most notably the shellfish regulations which already require very similar information and tracking (minus the digital pieces). 

As the diagram below describes, the expectation is that Key Data Elements are passed from one step to the next--so there can be a rapid traceback if there is a problem. 
FDA Image for Traceability

Although the goal of safer food is a good one and the specific rules are under final revision, the impact on the seafood industry could be far reaching. Here are some of the biggest challenges we see for adoption: 

  1. Small non-technical suppliers:  
    1. Fisherman/growers are great at a lot of things. Technology is generally not one of those things.  From that oyster farmer in a Carolina skiff to the lobsterman or the long liner, most harvesters are not using a lot of technology. 
  2. Long Supply Chains: 
    1. Five plus stops in a chain is not unusual.  Passing information between all those players seamlessly is a big task.  This requires new protocols and standards.  
  3. Fast turn around:
    1. No one wants rotting fish. Inventory churn is measured in minutes/hours, not days and weeks.  
  4. Employees turnover is a real problem and there are often language problems
    1. There is little appetite for hiring tech folks or spending large amounts training new employees.  
  5. Data Sharing: 
    1. Most companies do not want to share who they buy from and who they sell to with others in the chain. Traceability challenges that business practice. 

Anyone who has spent time on a fishing vessel or seafood processing plant, knows that most companies still use a lot of paper and don’t have the systems needed to meet the FDA’s vision of, “food traced to its source in seconds.”  Not to mention, “alerting consumers in real time before contaminated or misbranded foods are consumed.”

There is a lot more to come about this rule, but now is a good time to start thinking about your digital strategy.  How do you collect, store and transfer key information about your product?  

There are solutions out there (including BlueTrace) and you should look at a few.  

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2 min read

Prop 65: This Matters for Everyone

By Chip Terry on Sep 19, 2021 9:30:00 AM

Save yourself from a frivolous lawsuit and include the Prop 65 language on your shellfish tags.  

Cadmium is naturally occurring in many oysters and is "known by the state of California to cause cancer."  We could argue the point strenuously, but better safe than sorry.  It is easy to include the warning on your tags and it could save you a lot of heartburn. 

If you have product that ends up in California (even after going through a few steps in the distribution chain) and it is not labeled properly, you can be sued.  Here is the text from the law: 

Section 25249.7 provides for a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500 per day for each violation.

Here is the note from Margaret Pilaro at the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  

Earlier this month, at PCSGA’s AGM, Megan Terrell of Plauche and Carr provided some important information on California’s Prop 65.

At first glance this may not seem to apply to most of you.  HOWEVER, I’d ask you to take a second look.

If you ship product directly to CA, this is something of which you need to be aware. 

If there’s the slightest chance your product ends up in CA, (i.e. after being sold to a wholesaler/dealer) this is something of which you need to be aware. 

The upshot is that Prop 65 requires special labeling for products that may contain substances, (even those that are naturally occurring such as cadmium in oysters).

There are private organizations bringing forth legal actions for those that don’t comply with Prop 65. If you’re uninformed or chose to not act, it may impact you financially.

Blue Trace's products have been updated to make Prop 65 warning an easy option. As regulations change, we will continue to update our software to help you comply. No throwing out tags because the regulators made a slight wording change.    

Image from iOS (103)

 

 

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2 min read

NOAA Grant: We Won!!

By Chip Terry on Aug 31, 2021 12:14:52 PM

Thanks to all the folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) we are hiring more folks and scaling our solution.  Stay tuned for more product update. SBIR_logo

Here is the official press release: 

NOAA recently awarded BlueTrace (formerly Oyster Tracker) a $500k SBIR Phase II award based on the success achieved in a NOAA SBIR Phase I awarded in 2020. With the SBIR awards and already reported venture investments and grants, BlueTrace has raised over $1.8 million. 

These investments accelerate the building of an innovative Tide to Table Traceability and Marketing System. With over 120 clients in 12 states and 3 countries, BlueTrace has proven the market need and viability of a solution that helps shellfish harvesters, farmers, dealers, and distributors track their product seamlessly from harvest to consumption.  

As one of the SBIR grant reviewers noted: “The proposed work has strong commercial viability and has the potential to generate considerable cost-savings for shellfish producers and wholesalers.” 

Using the current BlueTrace system, shellfish producers and dealers track Key Data Elements for oysters, mussels, clams, geoducks and other shellfish from harvest through a complex chain of custody that often involves over five steps.  Using the mobile BlueTrace system, users track food safety issues and produce mandated shellfish logs and tags. The average client saves over 30% on their compliance costs while improving accuracy--and keeping their product safer.

BlueTrace is adding talented developers and seafood experts to their team to address rising consumer expectations for seafood provenance and evolving regulations. New federal rules such as section 204 of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act are being finalized for almost all seafood.  New regulations are increasing compliance costs while at the same time many in the shellfish industry are facing significant labor shortages. 

An easy-to-use traceability system designed for the mobile, wet, fast-paced environment of shellfish companies will make consumers safer and companies more efficient and resilient.  By tracking the time and temperature of seafood from harvest to table, the risk of illnesses like Vibrio and other food-borne diseases decreases dramatically.  

A safer food chain is good for consumers and businesses.  BlueTrace has the team, technology and know how to revolutionize tracking--from tide to table. Thanks to the SBIR program, we can build a system specifically for the complexities of the seafood industry.  

--CEO, Wyllys Chip Terry, Ph.D

About SBIR: The SBIR program was originally established in 1982 by the Small Business Innovation Development Act (P.L. 97-219). The objectives of the SBIR Program are to:  Stimulate technological innovation in the private sector;  Strengthen the role of small business in meeting Federal research and development (R&D) needs;  Foster and encourage participation by socially and economically disadvantaged persons in technological innovation; and Increase private sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal research and development. Each year, NOAA sets aside a portion of its extramural R&D budget to fund research from small science and technology-based firms. The NOAA SBIR Program supports innovative research projects that fall within NOAA’s core mission of science, service, and stewardship. 

About BlueTrace: BlueTrace makes the seafood supply chain more efficient and safer, by digitizing key transactions and creating a seamless traceability chain. Founded in 2018 by technology entrepreneurs with a track record of successfully building companies, BlueTrace is dedicated to helping the seafood industry move from reactive and costly food safety programs to a system that anticipates food safety issues and prevents outbreaks--all for a fraction of the current time and expense.    

BlueTrace has received backing from the Maine Venture Fund, Maine Technology Institute, Coastal Enterprise Inc., The Food Loft and others.  BlueTrace is headquartered in Castine, Maine with employees in Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, and Washington state.   

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2 min read

Vibrio and Food Safety

By Chip Terry on Aug 24, 2021 1:43:50 PM

The success of our businesses rely on consumers staying healthy.

One bad oyster... one sick customer...one Instagram post and you can have thousands of people opting for wings instead of oysters next time they go to the bar.  

For shellfish, the most prevalent issue is Vibrio--a salt tolerant bacterium that is endemic to pretty much all waterways.  The most common variation is Vibrio Paralyticus.  The most deadly is Vibrio Vulnificus.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates over 52,000 Americans get sick from Vibrio each year. By the CDC estimate, ~60% of VP infections are from oysters and ~15% are from clams.

Side note: the CDC number is an estimate, documented cases are much fewer and many would argue the real number is much lower.  But in any case one sickness is too many. 

Vibrio control involves keeping the concentration below the level that will get someone sick. The vast majority of time if you harvest product and cool/ice it quickly there will be no issue.  Although this summer in Washington State the water got warm enough in some areas that oysters straight out of the water and handled properly had elevated Vibrio levels that led to sicknesses and recalls.  The details are still being explored, but by all accounts the industry and regulators acted quickly and thoughtfully and prevented a bigger issue. 

NOAA has published an interesting set of data on the predicted level of Vibrio in various waterways.  Couple of key takeaways: 

1) At 90 degrees vibrio can double in a hour.  

2) On-board Icing or Rapid Refrigeration provides the best protection

3) Middle of the day in hot weather is a bad time to harvest

In response to the issue of Vibrio, the ISSC and most state agencies have adopted a series of rules to reduce the prevalence. Most of the rules involve cooling rapidly.  For instance: in Florida in the summer you must harvest early in the morning and have them in cooling within 30 minutes.  The ISSC has a list of all regulations

No one likes to follow regulations that can seem seem arbitrary, but the science is compelling.  Keep your product cool. 

 

 

 

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2 min read

Meet Kam: Farmer and Fisherman

By Chip Terry on Jun 14, 2021 8:06:10 AM

Although BlueTrace software is great, the key to success is having folks like Kam Kim of Newport News, VA on the team.  

 

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Kam was a farm manager at Cherrystone, one of the largest farms on the east coast, growing millions oysters  before moving on to be the field logistics specialist for the oyster breeding program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

“I used BlueTrace when I was at VIMS,” said Kam. “Back then, we were spending hours and hours trying to find certain bags scattered about underwater. I can’t tell you how stressful it was trying to remember how to track my inventory and what I needed to do next. Once we used BlueTrace, every single bag was accounted for and we always could pinpoint the specific place to find the one we needed.”

Because Kam works with farmers all over the world, he is immersed in their day-to-day logistics. “You can keep track of when you planted the seed, how many bags you planted, when you need to check them, when to thin your oysters out, and pinpoint what time of year they’re growing fastest,” 

As he tells it aquaculture farmers have always tried to track their inventory in their heads, on wet, muddy notebooks, on whiteboards, and cobbled together with Excel sheets. “Shellfish are live animals; they need care and attention, and having to remember all of those little details to keep these animals alive can be very stressful,” he said. “It’s why we created this software because we had so many farmers tell us ‘I can’t manage all of this by myself.’ ”

BlueTrace’s Farm Manager software gives farmers complete control over every piece of data. Just using an iPad, they can see in real-time when the team completes a work task.

And BlueTrace comes with one more bonus: Kam. “I work with all of my farmers directly, one-on-one, whenever they need,” he said. “They can ask me any questions and find the shortcuts around mistakes I’ve already learned.”

From the shellfish farmer new to the business to the established farmer who
relishes data-driven reports, there is a high value for farmers to go home at the end of the day with complete peace of mind knowing that the Farm Manager tool hasn’t missed a thing. According to Kam, "Giving farmers free time to enjoy their lives is one of the most satisfying parts of the job"

Kam uses most of his free time to fish, hunt, and hang with his fellow oyster farmers.  Follow his Instagram to see the amazing catches he reels in every week. 

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4 min read

Meet a Distributor: War Shore

By Chip Terry on Jun 1, 2021 10:36:40 AM

warshore logo squareBrad Blymier started as a small pedestrian farmer on the eastern shore of Virginia over 12 years ago. Very quickly he realized  his natural gift for connecting with chefs and farmers and started helping neighboring farms sell their product. Within a couple of years, he decided to focus solely on the distribution side of the business.  Since then, War Shore has grown into one of the largest specialty shellfish distributors in the “DMV” (DC/MD/noVA). Today they deliver oysters, lobster meat, scallops, clams, mussels and other specialty creatures of the sea to a growing array of chefs and major supermarkets.  With their new Maine buying station (Maine Oyster Initiative) they are one track to buy over 1.5 million Maine oysters this year which is about 15% of their overall oyster sales.

We caught up with Brad to see what we could learn about distribution and what should farmers know about working with a distributor.

Why should a farm work with a distributor?

The majority of shellfish are sold through a distributor because it lets you (the grower) focus on what you do best…farming.  If you don't like making sales, fielding tons of small orders, maintaining trucks and drivers, delivering product, dealing with customer service, and worst of all, handling collections, you are probably best off working primarily with a trusted distributor(s).  The opportunity cost is great when a grower is trying to do both.

What kind of farms don't need a distributor?

I would say Small farms that produce just enough product for a few nearby restaurants don't need a distributor, or just might need a smaller in-state distributor like our neighbors at Upstream Trucking here in Portland, Maine.  George and Rick do a fine job outfitting Portland with quality product. If I were a local grower in the Casco bay, I would 100% put my eggs in their basket and let them place my oysters in Portland. But If you want to scale you need to get your product to different geographies--and for that you will probably need a distributor with a greater reach that serves multiple markets.  Doing this also puts your oyster in a different category competing with hundreds of varieties around the country and Canada.

What role does a distributor play? 

A good distributor is your sales and fulfillment team. They are out in the market, building relationships with that new chef, understanding what their needs are and delivering reliably for them. A good Shellfish Distributor always has their finger on the pulse of what sells, where it sells, and the price it sells for.

What distinguishes War Shore?

We don’t’ use the oyster as a trojan horse to penetrate a restaurant with the goal of selling them fish, or other products with a higher profit margin.  65% of our overall revenue is oysters.  We carefully vet farms and then create a curated Oyster Portfolio to present to our chefs and new prospects, and then we help manage their ongoing oyster program.  We are very proactive in the market, meaning that we do not wait for a chef to ask us to find a particular oyster, then seek that farm out and buy form them one time, or sporadically throughout the year.   Our approach is relationship driven.  If I start a relationship with your farm, I am making the commitment to buy from you 52 weeks of the year, or as long as you can supply me.  Rather than representing hundreds of farms, we focus on a limited amount of partners and build their brands with the buyers (chefs).  

What are the keys for working with a distributor? 

Be a good partner and expect the same from the distributor. This is a handshake, no contract business. If you say you are going to deliver 10,000 oysters every Monday, do that.  And if you agree on a price to sell your oyster to that distributor 12 months out of the year, do that.   Also, play the long game with a trusted distributor.  Do not get hung up on the perceived value of your oyster based on the price you charge for it.  A good Distributor will show you how a competitively priced oyster will go a lot further then a highly priced oyster in many markets outside of your state.  If you want to make more money on your oyster, work on creating a more efficient farm, and cut cost where you can.  I find success working with farms who create a consistent oyster, but more importantly can scale their farm exponentially without losing that quality of that oyster.  2021 has been a very bizarre year so far…oyster shortages everywhere, but this will not last forever.  Mid-late Summer growth will be putting an influx of oysters in the market late Summer and into fall/winter.  This is when you will need your partner distributors the most to kick in and help you unload oysters off your farm.  States like Maine are seeing lots of new farms coming online each year.  Farms that want to thrive and grow will need to look at a variety of revenue models, and it won’t be a “one size fits all”….in my opinion anyway.

How do I pick a distribution partner?

Interview them: Ask what they are going to do for you? Will they commit to purchases every week or is this a one-time purchase to fill an immediate need.?  What else in their portfolio? How many other oysters will be competing with yours in the same space?  There are only so many slots at every restaurant and you want to be unique.  Where do they sell geographically? Don't get hung up on just the price, that is only one part of the equation. And don't hesitate to ask for references.

How can a farm be successful?

Grow a great product, be fair on pricing, run an efficient operation, and build a few strong partnerships.

Final words of wisdom? 

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I thought Hershey's chocolate was the best in the world and could not understand how anyone could disagree.  I still think it is the best, but I understand that there are tons of other chocolates as good as, and surely better.  This is also very true with oysters.  It’s a very competitive landscape.  Partnering with a good distributor(s) can help you successfully compete in a ever growing market.

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2 min read

Insurance:  Recordkeeping Matters

By Chip Terry on May 20, 2021 7:10:10 AM

Below is a nice description of the new ELAP insurance program from the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. Farmers will be wise to heed their advice and keep good records.  

"Qualifying for any insurance program is going to require that you do a good job documenting your inventory - This makes a strong argument for investing in some software to manage your farm so you can show planting, harvest and background mortality rates. "

[Below is the email from ECSGA.  Please join them.  They do great work for the industry.]

The USDA Farm Service Agency has added farmed shellfish - (and other food fish and bait fish used to feed food fish) to the list of farmed crops eligible for the Emergency Livestock, Honey-Bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP). ELAP removes some of the challenging paperwork issues, raises some of the payment caps, and raises the payout ratio to 60% of your documented inventory loss for qualified losses. (90% for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, or beginning or veteran farmer or ranchers)  This is a far superior program to the FSA's Non-Insured Crop Disaster Program (NAP) - and the two programs can both be used to mitigate losses and provide indemnity from the same storm (ELAP also covers losses from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal surge, tornadoes and certain events not covered by NAP)

We would like to thank the National Aquaculture Association and especially members of the Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas Congressional delegations that responded to outreach by the Catfish Farmers of America, National Aquaculture Association, Texas Aquaculture Association, Redfish Farmers of America, Southern Illinois fish farmers, American Farm Bureau Federation, and Soy Aquaculture Alliance

 

Attached is a new ELAP fact sheet specific to these changes.  Note reporting requirements for application dates and for filing your crop acreage reports.  If I understand this correctly, it appears that access to the program is retroactive so if you had a significant loss in 2020 you might still be able to file a claim.

Industry leaders were invited to a webinar this morning to explain the program. We anticipate a webinar for growers to be announced shortly.

We would like to recognize and appreciate the responsive and thoughtful efforts of US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Under Secretary Gloria Montaño Greene, Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and the FSA staff. 

Note: Qualifying for any insurance program is going to require that you do a good job documenting your inventory - This makes a strong argument for investing in some software to manage your farm so you can show planting, harvest and background mortality rates.  There are several products available our newsletter.

 

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1 min read

Printers & Supply Chains

By Chip Terry on May 5, 2021 9:09:47 AM

Supply Chains are the lifeblood of our economy.  From how a shellfish gets from the tideline to the table, to how a semi-conductor chip gets from a factory in Asia to a printer on a farm.  

As many of you know, We have been dealing with printer issues for the last few months.  Turns out we have the same issue as the Ford F-150 factories.  A shortage of inexpensive semiconductor chips is holding us up.  Fortunately we haven't had to stop production, we just had to switch printers. 

For our tagging and distributor clients, we will be shipping new Zebra Printers instead of the TSC printers we have been doing so far.  The TSC printers are great, but we we just can't get any. The Zebra printers are just as good so and seem to have a better supply. We are now certified resellers of both TSC and Zebra printers, giving us resiliency in this time of supply chain disruptions.  As always, they come with a 2 year warranty.  

As part of the switch, our line up of printers now includes:

1) Mobile printers: Ideal for printing less than 150 tags per day especially in remote locations. TSC Alpha 3r and Zebra 521Q.  The benefits of the mobile is they run on batteries for 2 days and are pretty durable (certified for 5' drops).  The drawback is the paper is thinner than other tags.

2) Industrial Printers: Ideal for printing more than 150 tags per day The Zebra ZT411.  The industrial holds ~760 to 950 tags per roll and prints on a thicker paper.  

Both printers work directly from the phone via Bluetooth--no need for cables.  Both use thermal printing so there is no smudging or ink to worry about.  You can easily switch between the two printer types: for instance if you want to print some tags on the boat and others back in the plant.  

 

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2 min read

Tag Printing 101—Say Goodbye to Preprinted Tags

By Chip Terry on Apr 19, 2021 8:47:00 AM

 

Forget Pre-Printed Tags: How Oyster Tracker Can Help Your Shellfish Farm Transition Into The 21st Century

Shellfish farms using pre-printed tags do their best to stay within FDA compliance, but it's estimated that up to 20% of shellfish packages are mistagged due to errors with pre-printed labels. On-demand label printing can help increase accuracy — and make it less likely that you'll end up dealing with hefty fines from the FDA due to mislabeling problems

Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions surrounding the on-demand tagging process. 

Q: What equipment does a business need to use Oyster Tracker's on-demand system for printing tags? 

A: Printing tags is simple. The process can be completed from any iPhone to our durable mobile printer. You won't need to invest in any special equipment beyond what Oyster Tracker provides. 

Q: Is the mobile tag printing system expensive?

A: On average, shellfish companies save 30% compared to the cost of pre-printed labels. Our systems use direct thermal printing, eliminating the need for ink, saving you even more money. 

Q: What happens if the mobile printer breaks?

A: We know what life is like on a shellfish farm: things can get messy. Our mobile printer is designed to meet your needs and can withstand drops of up to five feet. In the rare event that your printer does break, we'll immediately send you a loaner while we replace or repair your printer. All printers are covered by a two-year warranty. 

Q: Does it take a long time to set up the app?

A: If you can use standard iPhone apps, you can use this too. Legal language necessary for shellfish tagging is pre-programmed, making it simple for your and your employees to tap and print. 

Ready to Take the Leap into On-Demand Tagging For Your Shellfish Business?

If you're ready to leave pre-printed tags behind, you're making a smart move. At Oyster Tracker, we understand the ins and outs of the shellfish farming industry, and our tagging app can help to make printing tags as simple as possible for your business. We can't wait to chat and learn more about how we can work with you to streamline your tagging process. 

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1 min read

Cape Cod Farmers and Wholesalers

By Chip Terry on Apr 16, 2021 8:40:32 AM

One of the great joys of this job is visiting our clients.  Last week I visited a bunch on Cape Cod and got a couple of fun videos

A few things jumped out:

1) A Great Summer is Coming.  House rentals are through the roof.  Supplies are plentiful.  The demand is there.

2) Professionalization:  Many of the farms/distributors are starting to scale up and become more professional.

3) Farm Tours: Many of the farms are increasing farm tours both to generate revenue and to build relationships with their clients. If you are inclined this way, I highly recommend it. 

Stay well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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