Rebecca Dawes, Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator
In the fifth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Rebecca Dawes our Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator, discusses the ways in which all farms can get involved in Open Farm Sunday.
To many, what goes on behind the farm gate is a mystery, but Open Farm Sunday is every farmers chance to bridge the gap and be very proud of what they produce. EVERY farm, regardless of size or type, has something to shout about on Open Farm Sunday. Writing this as both a host farmer of 8 years, and as the Scottish Open Farm Sunday Coordinator, I have had the privilege of attending events that welcomed a restricted 20 guests, to those who watched more than 200 visitors walk through their farm gates, right through to my last open day which was enjoyed by more than 2000 enthusiastic visitors. It is often said that as farmers, we forget that our daily activities are fascinating to the general public. For example, one host farmer only welcomes 30 guests, and they have to phone and pre-book. They join him in their wellies, coats and aprons fresh on the Sunday morning to help him check his sheep. They walk the farm with him, ask questions and take photographs – buzzing as they leave, their experience will undoubtedly be shared with friends and family.
Some farmers want to take it to the next stage, so they welcome 200 visitors. This time pre-booking is not required, the posters provided by Open Farm Sunday have only been distributed in the local community. The farm walks run every 30 minutes and on returning to the farm yard, his family are cooking burgers and bacon rolls that guests can buy for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Setup in pens away from his normal livestock is a dozen different breeds of sheep each with its own description sheet, and in the adjacent barn is a wall and information table full of material from the British Wool Marketing Board. Again the guests leave with a smile on their face because they have stepped through those farm gates that they pass daily.
“As farmers, we can forget that our daily activities are fascinating to the general public”
Then there is the farmer who decided to go that step further, distributing posters and leaflets to the community and local school groups, putting an advert in the local newspaper, inviting the local radio to interview them, persuading some of the Open Farm Sunday sponsors to carry leaflets in their stores and putting up road signs that were supplied by Open Farm Sunday. The local young farmers group along with scouts are showing cars to their parking place and using it as an opportunity to ask visitors for a small donation to charity. The farm walks have been replaced by a tractor and trailer that is available every hour. The refreshments are now offered in a grass field with picnic seating and a couple of toilets have been hired. The wool information display is accompanied by the local spinners and weavers group who offer demonstrations and a chance to have a go. The local school is running an art and craft workshop using wool to make sheep out of toilet rolls. A neighbouring farmer is running sheep shearing demonstrations at various intervals throughout the day, the local animal feed company has come along to show what the animals eat and how much per year and a local butcher is running a sausage making demonstration with lamb. Away from this a local business with a bouncy castle has been invited to take some space and charges children a minimal fee to enjoy it, the local church is coordinating a few trade stalls who have been charged to attend with the money going to the church roof fund, a local drama group is telling farmyard stories, a music group is singing a few songs while guests enjoy lunch and a large red fire engine is getting plenty of use by young boys and girls who want to pretend to be “Fire Man Sam”, although this has to be parked by an exit just in case it has an emergency. The local machinery company has donated a combine harvester, tractor and forklift – each vehicle has a poster with a pound sign and question mark on it. Visitors are asked in a mock auction to “bid” for the items to the value that they think it would actually have cost the farm, and finally a circle of bales is laid out ready for the farmer to return from his tractor and trailer tour to take centre stage at the “Farmer Question Time” before closing the event. This Open Farm Sunday event has been open for five hours, families have come and gone full of enthusiasm for the food and farming industry, and the only activity required by the farmer is driving his tractor and speaking to his guests.
Regardless of whether your enterprise is sheep, dairy, cattle, chicken, vegetables, fruits, crop or something else, there are plenty of individuals and businesses out there who will come along and support your event. This could be simply by providing materials, running an activity or taking a stand. The question to ask when organising an event is – what do I want to get out of this, if someone comes along what will they get out of it AND what lasting memory do you want visitors to have.
If you’re interested in opening your farm for Open Farm Sunday – click here to find out more! Open Farm Sunday Information Events are taking place all over the UK throughout February, March and April – visit the Open Farm Sunday website here to find one near you.
Rebecca Dawes and her family have been hosting Open Farm Sunday events since it began in 2006, initially welcoming 90 visitors and building the event to over 2000 visitors in 2012. Rebecca is the Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator and is also the Communications and Rural Affairs Manager, at the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.