Author Archives: Justine Hards

Record breaking year for Open Farm Sunday

 “What people do not understand, they do not value; what they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” — Charles Jordan

Engaging the public with food and farming is one of the key building blocks of sustainable farming. It’s why we have organised Open Farm Sunday for the last 8 years. Over 365 farms all over the UK opened their gates for this year’s Open Farm Sunday (9th June) and initial estimates indicate that they welcomed over 200, 000 people. We’re overwhelmed each year by the number of visitors that experience farming on this one day, and it’s all down to the farmers who take part – well done to all of them!

The public’s appetite for supporting British farmers and eating home grown food has never been higher.  A recent survey carried out by grocery think-tank, IGD, shows that shoppers are nearly 150% more likely to buy British food than they were six years ago, with younger shoppers and families driving this growth.   From the number of people getting out onto farms last Sunday, it seems they not only want to buy British, they want to learn more about how it’s grown.

Enriching visits to farms have a huge role to play in contributing to our understanding of food, how it’s produced and its links with nature. Farm visits demand our engagement and reflection. They are a valuable trigger for wider thinking about sustainable farming, healthy food choices and our place in the natural world,  and it seems they are becoming ever more popular.  Just ahead of Open Farm Sunday, Asda surveyed over a thousand of its shoppers.  43% said that it was important to visit farms to support British farmers, with many preferring to visit a farm than outings to zoos, safari parks, funfairs and even theme parks.  This interest in food provenance is a really encouraging trend.  The challenge now is to turn this interest into action.   If, after their Open Farm Sunday visit, just a few people start to change their buying patterns to more sustainably produced food, then it will have done its job.

It’s not only the public who are keen to reach out to farmers.  It’s working the other way too, with many farmers using social media tools to connect with their customers.  In a small survey of our LEAF members, three quarters of farmers said the web had helped them get closer to their customers and many now use Twitter and Facebook as their main means of communication.

So, what does the record number of people visiting farms last Sunday tell us?  It tells us that more and more people are interested in their food, they want to learn more about how it’s grown, talk to the farmers out in the field, discover more about the wonderful countryside around them and enjoy the space and freedom that it offers.  In essence, they want to engage.

Our job at LEAF is to harness this enthusiasm.  To inspire people to go on being interested throughout the year, not just on Open Farm Sunday.  To question where their food comes from, how it’s been grown and to turn this knowledge into meaningful behavioural change.  To deepen understanding of where food comes from and how farming contributes to the landscape around us. We don’t just want to see them making healthy food choices, we want to see sustainable food choices.

The Open Farm Sunday photography competition is in full swing and we’ve received more entries than ever before already – you can enter here.  Head over to the Open Farm Sunday Pinterest board to see a whole host of images we collected over the last few weeks.

Finally, next year’s Open Farm Sunday will take place on the 8th June 2014 so put the date in your diary now!

Introducing… Westlands

westlandslogopurple_HighResWestland Nurseries are one of the UK’s largest commercial growers of micro-leaf, sea vegetables, edible flowers, oriental leaves, heirloom tomatoes, and loads more!  They offer an extraordinary range (known as collections) of innovative and exciting products to chefs, the food service industry and consumers.  Westlands joined LEAF in 2007 and became LEAF Marque certified four years later.  Technical Specialist, Liz Donkin explains more about the Westlands way…

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Tell us a bit more about Westlands, what is the secret of your success?
We started off in the 1960’s as a traditional salad and leaf growing business and have steadily grown since then.  There’s always been a real pioneering spirit running through the company.  Our approach has always been to keep looking ahead, with an eye open for what’s around the corner and developing great tasting products that we all feel excited about.

You pride yourselves in your dedication to traceability and quality.  How do you achieve this?
It’s all about attention to detail – we call it the Westlands way.  All our products are grown with innovation and inspiration, with amazing tastes and aromas, always with the customer in mind.  We’ve invested heavily in the latest technology and have got some state of the art equipment here, plus a fantastic team to look after our products.  But the key for us is that we’ve never lost sight of what’s important – good, old fashioned horticultural know-how combined with a passion for growing.

LEAFMarqueebrief

The LEAF Marque label represents produce grown to our independent standards

Why LEAF Marque?
Environmental considerations lie at the very heart of the business, from our water and energy use, selecting varieties with natural disease resistance right through to the way we manage our waste.  Joining LEAF and particularly, becoming LEAF Marque certified was the next logical step.  It gives us independent endorsement and demonstrates to our customers that we are proud of what we grow and how we grow it.  More and more organisations are supporting LEAF Marque as well so consumer and user recognition is definitely on the increase.

Provenance is an integral part of Westlands, what role does LEAF play in helping you to achieve this?
Growing sustainably here in the UK is what Westlands is all about.  Being able to put the LEAF Marque logo on our packs to demonstrate the links of where and how we farm sends out a very clear message about our environmental commitment.

Westlands Viola flowers, which are much smaller and more attractive than the more well-known pansy with a delicate fragrant flavour of palma violets

Westlands Viola flowers, which are much smaller and more attractive than the well-known pansy with a delicate fragrant flavour of palma violets

How do the principles of Integrated Farm Management fit in with Westland’s overall ethos?
The principles of IFM fit as well with the horticultural world as they do in a more traditional farm setting.  Looking at the whole enterprise and taking into account the complex interactions between each element of the enterprise is the cornerstone of IFM.

Your commitment to more sustainable horticulture is clear, how do you see your partnership with LEAF developing in the future?
We’re really excited about the future and we’ll continue to innovate and hopefully inspire.  We definitely see the power of social media in promoting what we do to a much wider audience.  Being part of LEAF gives us an ideal platform to engage with many more customers and get them enthusing about micro leaves, edible flowers, sea vegetables and all things green!

Social media is certainly on the up. We’ve noticed more and more farmers signing up to sites like twitter, what kind of benefits do you see from it?

Twitter is a fantastic medium for us to communicate directly with our end customers and chefs, in turn this allows us to gain valuable feedback instantly.  This feedback is tailored into producing our collections based upon what customers would love to see and use.

When you launch a new product you don’t always know how the customer is using it, social media allows us to share and creates an open dialogue with users of our produce.  We are sharing our knowledge but also that of the Chef with everyone, sites such as Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook allows for a very dynamic communication stream.  The really great thing is that the less experienced users of our products can pick up tips and ideas on how the Westlands collections can be used with their menus, all in a way that fits with their busy days

We think social media is a good way to engage your community alongside other activities, which is a key part of IFM. Do you have any top tips for a newcomer to the social media world?

Social media is there to engage with people.  It is a great way to share ideas, gain knowledge and promote activities with a diverse group of people including suppliers and key businesses such as LEAF and raises awareness of the positive work the business does.   You only have to see how LEAF utilises social media within its own very popular Open Farm Sunday event to gain an understanding of how useful and informative social media is.  The key things that we have learnt are to, be yourself, be honest but most of all help others and definitely do not broadcast – engage with the people who have taken the time to talk to you.

To find out more about Westlands and their remarkable collection of fresh produce products, visit www.westlandswow.co.uk.  You can also follow them on the following social sites:

Twitter @WestlandsWow
Facebook.com/WestlandsWow
Pinterest.com/WestlandsWow

And obviously us too on Twitter and Facebook (apologies for the shameless plug!).

Introducing… Hugh Lowe Farms

With Wimbledon only days away now, we thought you would like to hear a little about how the strawberries for the event are produced. So here, we introduce Hugh Lowe Farms and Managing Director, Marion Regan. Enjoy!

Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd is a family owned farming company, established over 100 years ago. They are one of the largest fruit businesses in the UK, supplying many of the major supermarkets and have supplied strawberries for the Wimbledon tennis championships for more than 20 years. Hugh Lowe Farms have been members of LEAF for over twelve years and are LEAF Marque certified. We hear from Managing Director, Marion Regan about business, berries and bugs!

Marion Regan, Managing Director, Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd

Where did it all begin for Hugh Lowe farms?
My great grandparents began growing strawberries here in 1893 and the family has been producing them here ever since.

Your pride yourselves in growing top quality fruit with care for the environment, how does LEAF fit into your overall business philosophy?
We try to farm efficiently and responsibly. While quality is our focus, our natural environment is equally important to us – not least because we live and work here.

All your fruit is certified to LEAF Marque standards – what does this mean for your customers?
People all over the country trust Kent berries to be the best and the discipline of the LEAF Marque means this promise of quality is met.

A large proportion of your fruit is grown under polytunnels, why is this?
Not only is the crop protected from rain damage, but also from rots and moulds. In addition, the season can be extended and we can supply reliable volumes to the market every day from April until November.

Looking after the landscape and biodiversity means striking a balance between soft fruit grown under tunnels, arable fields resting in between soft fruit crops and land managed for wildlife. How do you get the balance right?
We have been doing this for over 100 years and have found it helpful to take a long term view – there is no benefit to exhausting the land nor removing the habitat for the many beneficial insects and other wildlife which live here too.

You’ve supplied strawberries for FMC the official caterers to Wimbledon for the last 20 years – why do the British love strawberries so much and what makes the perfect strawberry?
Luckily the Wimbledon Championships come at the traditional peak of the strawberry season, creating a long and happy association. Strawberries sum up the summer – and the perfect berry is sun-warmed, straight from the plant – we try and deliver the freshest fruit so people can be as close as possible to that experience!

New Podcast: Water Quality and Run-off

We’ve had a new podcast available for a couple of weeks so we thought it was about time we told you about it!

In this episode, LEAF’s Tom Hills and Justine Hards discuss some of the issues facing farmers following a very wet April. Justine talks with Cambridgeshire LEAF Demonstration Farmer, David Felce, on some of the measures he has put in place to tackle the issues of diffuse water pollution and run-off.

You can listen to the podcast with the player below, download an Mp3 or use our RSS feed. The podcasts are also available through itunes here.

Download Mp3 (Right click and “Save target as” to download)

Click here to see the photographs and videos mentioned in the episode. Click here if you would like more information on the LEAF Technical Days to be held throughout May and June. Thanks for listening!

We’ll have a new podcast online in the next few weeks, make sure you either subscribe via itunes or an RSS reader – or you can subscribe to our blog with your email address in the top right corner of this page!

LEAFasks: How much more would you be prepared to pay for your food to account for public goods?

Last month we asked, “Food aside, what do you consider to be the most important thing that farming delivers?”. There were two answers which proved most popular – ‘Biodiversity and healthy environment’ (45%) and ‘Rural economy and employment’ (41%).

Nobody considered ‘wellbeing’, ‘beautiful countryside’ or ‘connection with the local community’ to be most important. However, we did receive a few alternative responses listing food, renewable energy and traffic jams!

Earlier this month, LEAF, Syngenta and The Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network (ESKTN) held a debate to address the key global challenge of this century – food security. A big talking point at the event was values and how much we are prepared to pay for our food and the public goods that farming delivers – so, our LEAFasks question this month is (for more information on public goods provided by agriculture see here):

 

The Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund

The Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund, also known as FRICH, is run by the Department for International Development (DFID) . The fund  helps bring UK retailers and African farmers together to help improve the longer term prosperity of their farms .

It’s all about innovation, new ways of doing things, looking at economic and social sustainability.  LEAF, in partnership with Waitrose , Green Shoots,  British & Brazilian, Blue Skies, Sunripe and Wealmoor have been working with sub-Saharan African farmers now for just over a year

Our project is all about  supporting  African farmers to learn more about sustainable farming , improve their yields and increase the income they earn from their crops.  We’ve been travelling to Kenya and offering practical training in soil and water management, energy use and crop protection.   We’re also encouraging them to become LEAF Marque certified which will help them secure valuable contracts with UK retailers.

One of the farmers we’ve been working with is Anthony Mucheke. Anthony is a green bean farmer in Kenya and it has been hard for him to to make enough money to support his family because of the fluctuations in the market

Green bean farming helps the community in lots of ways. In the past, the produce buyers were only interested in the quality and safety of the beans. But now, through our involvement with FRICH,  we have a partnership with a European company and they’re really interested in the quality of the land and the life of the community, as well as the quality of the beans and peas.

- Anthony Mucheke, Green bean farmer, Kenya

The FRICH project really addresses these issues and helps farmers to farm in a more sustainable way, whilst giving them the credentials that will help them secure and maintain contracts with retailers, which in turn, brings much needed resources back into the local community. It’s a project that we’re really proud to be involved in.

New Videos!

If you were at our President’s event on the 2nd November, you will have probably seen a few cameras around. Well, the footage is now ready for you all to see! We have three videos, one of Jim Paice launching our new Water Management Tool and two interviews that you won’t have seen on the day. Enjoy!



Accolade for LEAF Farmer!

Producing great food with a passion for wildlife and the countryside has always been at the heart of Rob Kynaston’s approach to farming. Earlier this week, he was named as the winner of the RSPB Midlands Nature of Farming Award, recognising farmers who are ambassadors for wildlife in the farming community. Continue reading

New Website Launches – Visit My Farm!

Farmers looking to open their farms for educational visits, now have all the information they need in one place, thanks to a new website developed by LEAF in partnership with FACE (Farming And Countryside Education) and Natural England. The website,  www.visitmyfarm.org is a unique one stop shop, providing a wealth of information, resources and ideas to help farmers  get geared up for hosting  fun and engaging farm visits. Continue reading