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Three Oaks Farm in Harford County offers virtual tours for people stuck inside because of coronavirus

Even though the new coronavirus has led to closed businesses, bans on gatherings and a rush to prepare hospitals for a growing number of cases, one Harford County farm does not think the outdoors cannot be enjoyed indoors.

Pam Purce and the Three Oaks Farm in Forest Hill are offering virtual lessons and tours on the farm in lieu of the in-person tours and events the virus has canceled or delayed. The farm is used for agricultural education, Purce explained, and would normally be in its busy season this time of year. But the virus derailed the alpaca farm’s regular seasonal schedule.

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"It has been a shame; everything has had to be cancelled, refunded, [put] on hold,” she said. “It has definitely been an eye-opener. We are in the same boat as everybody else.”

Normally offering paid tours and educational events for people of all ages, the farm’s business has suffered from the restrictions on businesses and public gatherings. But Purce’s daughter gave her an idea: Why not offer virtual lessons for those at home?

Purce said she had used Skype to reach classrooms and students in places like Mexico, Canada and Ireland, but never Facebook Live, through which she now hosts a lesson at 11 a.m. every Wednesday. And people in the thousands are paying attention.

She started doing the tours last week — showing off the many animals at the farm and teaching the difference between hay (for eating) and straw (for sleeping) in her first video — and generated 4,100 views on Facebook. The second video, posted this Wednesday, had garnered over 1,000 views in six hours. The number of live viewers has climbed as well, Purce said, with approximately 200 tuning into the first lesson and over 400 watching the second posted this Wednesday.

Hundreds of comments are posted under the videos, some coming from out of state viewers in North Carolina, Arizona, Virginia and countries around the world. Some ask questions about the animals. Others post photos of cards their children have made. Plenty more thank Purce for making the videos.

“Thanks for doing this! This is awesome!!! A bright spot in my day,” one commented.

Purce will continue to post the videos until kids go back to school — Maryland education officials made the announcement school closures would be extended until at least April 24 on Wednesday, around the same time Purce was giving her virtual lesson.

The video sessions are free, Purce said, and meant to make people happy while also educating them. Purce is a former elementary school teacher.

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“It is something fun for the kids, and parents to teach their kids at home,” she said. “We just need to spread a little bit of joy.”

The farm also breeds alpacas and sells alpaca wool apparel and accessories, which are sold through its online store. According to the farm’s website, the alpaca rearing began in 2010 with the purchase of two females and a male. From there, it expanded to 18 alpacas on-site, with chickens, mini-donkeys, pigs and other farm animals — including a miniature cow.

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