With Open Farm Sunday taking place later this year, farmers have a chance to make a significant difference in educating the public and offering an on-farm experience to remember. Sarah Todd looks at the benefits.
Farmers have been urged to pick up the baton presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent interest in locally produced food it generated and host an Open Farm Sunday event.
The annual event, run by Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) takes place on Sunday, June 12, and the ambition is to recruit more farmers across the country than ever before.
Although numbers were unsurprisingly down last year because of Covid-19 restrictions, one in three of the hosts opened their farm gates to the public for the first time.
It was revealed 43 per cent of those visitors had not visited a farm before and 99 per cent of visitors rated the event they attended as good or excellent.
Annabel Shackleton, manager of Open Farm Sunday for Leaf, has been in the role for a decade and believes that, even in this day and age of social media and instant images, there is nothing to beat the impact of getting the general public onto farms to gain a valuable insight.
Annabel says: “Arable farmers worry that nobody will be interested because they do not have any livestock. Then livestock farmers are not sure because they do not have any big machinery for visitors to look at.
“The truth is the public are fascinated by those everyday activities farmers do without thinking. There is no need for massive tractors or cute baby animals. Time and time again it is proved that just general everyday farming is what people are interested in.”
Since the very first lockdown, Annabel has noticed that people are more in tune with the seasons and interested in food miles and the field to fork journey.
She says: “It is vital that, as an industry, farming has a big push to capitalise on this interest. As people return to work and their lives get busier again, the interest in food could get pushed aside.
“This year’s Open Farm Sunday is key for keeping the momentum going.”
Annabel says other trends can be also identified via an increase in the numbers of younger adults visiting farms.
“Last year there was definitely more people in their 20s and 30s whereas just five years ago coming to an Open Farm Sunday event was more of interest to the older generation.”
“This widening of the age dynamic is something that farming needs to resources and can talk to one of our ambassadors – farmers who have done open days already.
“If you are registered you can find everything you need to know about Open Farm Sunday and make your final decision from there.”
Since the first Open Farm Sunday in 2006, more than 1,600 farmers across the UK have opened their gates and recognise. As an industry, farming has long appreciated the importance of engaging with children and many organise school visits. I’ve found it really exciting to see these younger adults showing an interest in farming and where their food comes from.”
“Two years ago animal health and welfare was the question on the tips of most visitors’ tongues. While this remains of interest, the environment and wildlife has overtaken it as the topic of most interest.”
A new initiative for hosts is free online ticketing, which takes away the worry of not knowing how many people will turn up for an open event.
Annabel says: “Farmers can release as many tickets as they want. Having set times is also useful, rather than just having an open invite for the whole day.
“Some find it easiest to do an early 9am farm tour, for example, then another at 2pm. Then there is time between to get on with the farm work.
“The most important message is to please register your event. There is no obligation, deregistering is simple, and it is perfectly fine to decide that this year it is not for you.
“But if farms are registered, they can then start getting access to ideas, welcomed in excess of 2.7 million people onto farms for one Sunday each year.
Perennially popular Open Farm Sunday events include farm walks, nature trails, tractor and trailer rides, demonstrations, activities for children and food stalls.
- For further information, call 02476 413 911, or visit farmsunday.org
In the field: Anne Mair-Chapman
Seeing how much her sons’ school friends enjoyed visiting the farm spurred Anne Mair-Chapman to open for the first time last year.
Anne says: “Like so many farmers I find myself grumbling away to myself about problems within the industry. But I have started to realise that if we do not speak up we will not be heard and that it is up to us as farmers to advertise the industry in a better light.”
Last year, about 60 visitors came through the gates. Anne, who has become a North East ambassador for Open Farm Sunday, so is somebody other farmers can talk to about the event, says: “Dad, who was a bit wary, was stood at the gate and he was soon chatting away to people and enjoying it.
“We did last year’s first event as a self-guided walk. Leaf has some great resources, as does the NFU, with posters and leaflets.
“We invited the local minis rugby team, which my sons – Henry, eight, and Ewan, 11 – are part of, and that was perfect for getting us started.
“They looked out for things which were highlighted on the handouts then picnicked and everybody seemed to have a great time.
“Now we have dipped our toe in we are looking to have 200-300 visitors this year. Our plan is to target local schools and parents.”
Anne says the most important thing she learned from her debut open event was ‘do not overthink it’.
She says: “You can panic and think you need to bring in exciting things for visitors to see and do.
“The fact is people were really happy simply having a walk around the farm and appreciated having access to a hill which is not normally open to the public to have their picnics.
“They are not looking for a theme park; they are just interested to see what a normal farm is like.
“One of the best parts for me was people going home realising farmers do not harm the environment and that we work with nature.”
- Anne farms with her father David Mair at 150-hectare (372-acre) Kypie Farm, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland.
- Sells up to 60 pedigree tups at KelsoMarket every year from a flock of justover 200 pedigree Suffolks, Texels, Blue Texels and Hebrideans.
- The farm also harvests 32ha(80 acres) of wheat and barley.
Top tips to make your event a success:
Thinking of taking part in Open Farm Sunday for the first time in 2022?
- Start small: It may be best to start with something small, such as a farm walk for a limited number of people.
- Keep it short: You do not need to run the event for a whole day; a few hours is plenty
- Ask for help: Other local farmers and friends will be happy to support you.
- Keep it simple: Concentrate on your story and what you feel comfortable sharing; you do not need to tell the story of every type of farm in the UK.
- Make it memorable: Using props and hands-on activities really helps visitors remember their time with you.
- Share the link between your farm and people’s fridges: If you process your own food have it out on display or buy some which could have been produced on your farm to help visitors make the link.