July 26, 2021

Farm goes virtual with popular fall tour

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — When students and teachers couldn’t come to Selmi’s Market farm market due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the market’s owners found a way to take the market to them — no matter where they live.

“I put it on our Facebook page, thinking the local schools would use it, and the next thing I know, it was getting some views, then all of a sudden, I started seeing schools from New York City and Los Angeles, Alaska, Texas,” said Connie Selmi.

Selmi and her husband, Frank, are the third-generation owners of Selmi’s Farm Market and Greenhouse in Rock Falls.

Just like her husband’s grandfather, also named Frank, who started the business as a truck garden, using his truck to take his produce and that of others from Whiteside County into Chicago, Connie and her grandchildren are using the internet to share the bounty of the fall farm market with others.

Pre-pandemic, the Selmis host local schools at the farm for tours in the fall.

“They get a hayride and they get to go through the children’s part of the corn maze. They get to go through the haunted house. We teach them about apples and how pumpkins grow. We do a lesson about bees and how important they are. They get to feed the farm animals and they get to take a pumpkin home,” Selmi said.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, she knew that the tours likely wouldn’t happen.

“The first thing we thought was — we can’t do this. The kids aren’t going to be allowed to do this. And we left it at that,” she said.

Selmi has seven grandchildren, and “Grandma Connie’s School” has been a tradition in the family.

“I’m a little bit of a tech geek and computer geek, so I’ve been teaching them film production and sound production, graphic arts and all the marketing stuff,” Selmi said.

That all came together in an idea that woke Selmi up in the middle of the night.

“I thought, whoa, what if we put together a virtual field trip? At least the schools around our area would have something to do,” she said.

Even as Selmi was teaching her grandchildren, they were returning the favor.

“They’ve been teaching me how their teachers were teaching online with Google Meet, Google Forms and all of those things,” she said.

So, grandma and grandkids collaborated on a virtual farm tour. The tour is a mix of the creations of Connie and her grandkids along with a few internet videos.

“The 8-year-old is into animation and he did some things on Keynote on how to make a tractor fly because we used a drone to fly over the farm. So instead of the wagon ride, they get a tractor ride in the sky. Another one of the grandkids teaches a Photoshop lesson of how to put yourself in a photo at Selmi’s so the students can say ‘I was at Selmi’s!’ It’s stuff like that, that they thought up,” Selmi said.

Traditional favorites from the farm tour also make an appearance.

“Our magic showman, Magic Dave, sent me a five-minute video to put in the middle of it,” Connie Selmi said.

Connie’s husband Frank, “Farmer Frank,” leads a tour of the animal barns in the video tour. The virtual event even includes a tour of the farm’s haunted house, which wasn’t able to open this year. Selmi said she’s planning to use a Day of the Dead theme next year.

“We had to close the haunted house this year, which was sad. Our corn maze and our haunted house theme was the same and it was fun, it was Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The corn maze was in the shape of a sugar skull and we played with that theme. Next year, I’m going to do it all over again because it was so much fun,” Selmi said.

Overall, the whole tour lasts around an hour, but can be viewed in different segments. Selmi posted a link to the tour on the farm’s Facebook page in early September and just a month later, the tour had over 10,000 views. The tour has been viewed in almost every state and by teachers and classes in Canada and Belarus.

Selmi said she’s surprised by how far the virtual tour has spread.

“It did surprise me. Everybody was tagging teachers in the original post. Somebody posted it on a teacher blog, so that made a difference. It just blew my mind when I saw New York and California,” Selmi said.

For an introduction to the virtual tour, go to https://tinyurl.com/y2edgym4.