The Woodland Trust working for sustainable farming

Helen Chesshire

Helen Chesshire, Senior Advisor, The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust joined LEAF as a corporate member last year.  Helen Chesshire, Senior Advisor at the Woodland Trust explains more about the Trust, why it supports LEAF and the wider benefits of trees on UK farmland.

Tell us a bit more about The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity.  It looks after more than 1,000 woods covering 190 square kilometres.  The Trust aims to protect, restore and create new native woodland cover across the UK, which is one of the least wooded in the whole of Europe.

Why has The Woodland Trust joined LEAF

The Trust wishes to create healthy, resilient and wildlife-rich wooded landscapes and with 70% of the land in the UK managed for agricultural production it means that the farming sector is key to helping us achieve this. As the leading organisation promoting sustainable farming and food, LEAF was an obvious partner.   We are hoping to work with LEAF to help raise awareness of the role of trees on UK farmland as well as to demonstrate best practice and encourage farmers to value, preserve and protect their trees and woodlands for conservation benefits.

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The farming sector is key to helping The Woodland Trust create healthy, resilient and wildlife-rich woodland

We have worked with David Rose, LEAF Marque farmer in Nottinghamshire to create a silvoarable scheme in a bid to nourish his soils, improve crop yield, attract pollinators, encourage local wildlife and create an additional source of produce.  We would welcome an opportunity to work with other LEAF farmers who are interested in increasing tree cover on their farms.

What does Integrated Farm Management [sustainable farming] mean to the Woodland Trust?

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The nine sections of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

As a whole farm business approach IFM delivers more sustainable farming systems which in turn can help create a more resilient landscape.  Trees are a cost effective tool that can deliver a wide range of services on farms to help achieve this whilst also delivering important services for the wider environment.  For example, a shelter belt can improve crop water efficiency which has been proven to increase wheat yields by 3.5% – more in dry years.  It can also provide shelter in cold, wet and windy weather reducing the incidence of neonatal lamb losses. They can also help provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife and aid movement of species as they seek to adapt to the changing climate.

Similarly, narrow strips of trees along contours or waterways can protect soils from erosion by increasing the water infiltration rates of the soil, reducing surface water runoff and damage from poaching.  But they can also help improve water quality by trapping agricultural pollutants before they enter water courses.  Planting up unproductive areas or awkward corners can improve the management of the farm; provide a sustainable source of on-farm firewood as well as a valuable wildlife habitat.

Windbreak - geograph - credit to Mr Hugh Venables

Trees are a cost effective tool that can deliver a wide range of services on farms
Image kind permission of Huge Venebles

Why trees are good for your farming business

The last few years have proved very difficult for farmers with unprecedented challenges from both drought and floods.  Climate change models predict that extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, so finding ways to mitigate the effects is becoming increasingly urgent.  Research shows that managing existing trees and planting additional trees in the right place can help farms become more resilient, and more cost effective.  From simple hedgerow plantings to fully integrated agroforestry systems, trees can help address a range of issues affecting sustainable production by contributing to shade, shelter, water and pollution management, reducing soil erosion, pollination, Integrated Pest Management and product diversification.

How can initiatives like Open Farm Sunday help in raising public awareness of the importance of trees and woodland?

The Woodland Trust aims to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. All our woods are freely open to the public and we run a wide range of free events including community tree planting days, guided walks, bush craft and much more.    We know from experience that the simple act of planting a tree can stay with a child forever opening their eyes to the importance of nature.  So we know that initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday are very effective in helping people to understand and value the food our farmers produce and the environment that supports it.  Trees conjure up an image of beauty, power and longevity; highlighting the role they play in sustainable farming systems can only help to ensure future generations appreciate the balance required between an increasing global demand for food and recognition that the natural (farmed) environment is fundamental in supporting ecosystem services such as clean and plentiful water as well as food production.

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Open Farm Sunday helps people understand and value the food our farmers produce

Tell us a bit more about how The Woodland Trust supports farmers to increase the number of trees on their farms?

The Woodland Trust is working in partnership with farmers across the country to study the effects of strategic tree planting on farms.  This includes help to plant shelter belts, riparian strips, pasture trees and small areas of woodland or to develop silvorable/pastoral schemes.

Our Woodland Creation Advisors can provide free advice and support providing a whole farm tree planting assessment, design of planting scheme and identification of potential funding support.   In return, we ask that you maintain the trees and allow us to monitor the effects on your farm for an agreed period of time.  The results will help us develop more UK based evidence and an opportunity to influence future agricultural policy.

For more information contact the WT on 0330 3335303, email at plant@woodlandtrust.org.uk or visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees

Open Farm Sunday: reaching out to our customers

Andy Mitchell

Andy Mitchell, M&S Agronomist

Andy Mitchell, M&S Agronomist  (soft fruit, top fruit, tropical and dried fruit and nuts) reflects on the 10th Anniversary Open Farm Sunday and his time at Castleton Fruit Farm just outside Aberdeen, meeting customers and explaining the story behind their food. 

So the tenth anniversary of Open Farm Sunday is over and the team at LEAF have worked so hard to make this the best yet.  Huge thanks also to our 15 M&S growers who opened their farms to tell their farming story.

Supporting our growers

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Supporting M&S growers to reach out to the public

I do love this event.   We at M&S are proud to be long standing sponsors, so in true fashion, I went along to support my local event.  This time, I left the cereals of Grantham for the hills and soft fruit of Castleton Fruit Farm farmed by Ross Mitchell, one of our key growers in soft fruit at M&S. For over 15 years, Ross and his family have supported M&S in producing the finest of berries, so it was a natural choice to make our way to just outside Aberdeen.

We got to Castleton farm bright and early on Sunday, the Saturday winds that battered the tents and tunnels had been a challenge but the team on site were still smiling.  The preparation was staggering – a bouncy castle, a tractor full of balloons, a table full of M&S goodies for a charity raffle and so much more including local food and of course, the wonderful farm shop and restaurant.

Engaging with our customers

Having been to a few Open Farm Sunday events now I was hopefully ready for what lay ahead!  Engaging with our customers to help them understand why farming is the most vibrant, exciting and tough industry to work in is so rewarding.  We had a huge mix of people coming to visit the M&S tent, tasting the different strawberry varieties grown on the farm.   It is always interesting to find out first-hand what the public thinks and it is never quite what you expect!

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Explaining to the next generation how their food is grown is a huge privilege

We got loads of great questions about farming, soft fruit, Open Farm Sunday and M&S.  It was so evident that there is such a huge loyalty and love for growers and farmers.  This groundswell change has been significant and really the result of the work that LEAF and our farmers have delivered, great job to you all.  We at M&S have a huge sense of pride when we are able to get so much interaction with our growers and our customers. It is a huge privilege and indeed, our duty as retailers is to tell children about how a strawberry grows, why we need bees and that it takes just 60 days to grow a crop of berries!

So while the kids are busy painting, going on tractor tours, bouncing on the huge castle, it’s a chance to talk to the parents and older generation about the local community and, of course, the huge amount of workers needed to make farming happen.  This is the whole ethos behind Open Farm Sunday – to explain the realities of farming and dispel the myths.

Looking ahead to next year

After the warm glow of this year’s Open Farm Sunday, my thoughts turn to next year’s event on the 5th June.  M&S take huge pride in our growers wanting to take part in this event and we are already thinking about how we can make it even better for them as well as further supporting LEAF.  Our thinking caps are well and truly in place!

OFS-Colour-plain-datedNext year’s Open Farm Sunday is on the 5th June with Open Farm School Days taking place throughout June.  Click here to keep up to date with all the latest Open Farm Sunday news and if you went along to an Open Farm Sunday event this year, we would love to hear from you.  Complete our visitor survey here and our host farmer survey here

Tenth Open Farm Sunday celebrates record breaking year

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Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive

Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) reflects on a record breaking 10th Anniversary Open Farm Sunday.

What a day!  The sun shone (on most of us!) and the crowds came flocking onto farms in their thousands!  Early estimates show that visitor numbers for Open Farm Sunday 2015 will be over 250,000 – far exceeding the record breaking attendance of 2014 by more than 15%.

Our tenth Open Farm Sunday has been a resounding success and a fantastic celebration of British farming and food. From the feedback received so far, it’s clear that Open Farm Sunday enabled hundreds of thousands of people to have an amazing day in the countryside, learning about farming and the story behind their food. We’re particularly delighted so many families took the time to visit farms up and down the country, many for the first time.

DSC_3264 from Michael Sly

Nearly 400 farms opened their gates for Open Farm Sunday. It is the farmers, their families, sponsors, the Young Farmers, the neighbours, others in the industry that we ALL owe a huge debt in helping raise the profile of why farming is great.

On behalf of all the LEAF team, I’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone involved. Some 400 farms opened their gates and it is the farmers, their families, sponsors, the Young Farmers, the neighbours, others in the industry that we ALL owe a huge debt in helping raise the profile of why farming is great.

Farmers do not often get a ‘thank you’ for all the hard work they do every single day to produce our food and manage the countryside.  I hope all the farmers that opened their gates will be heartened by the public support there is for farming and cherish some special memories. The faces of the children and the families who visited them on Open Farm Sunday, as well as the sheer joy and sense of awe in seeing the livestock, a calf being born or the size and price of the machinery, not to mention the many inquisitive questions.  Indeed, the only tears I saw were those of the children not wanting to go home!

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Visitors came in their thousands for this year’s 10th Anniversary Open Farm Sunday

So a huge well done and thank you! Do take a moment to complete our host farmer feedback form so we can continue to build on the success we have achieved together.

Finally, as well as Open Farm Sunday, LEAF also organises Open Farm School Days, where farms are open for school visits throughout June – click here to find out more.

Next year’s Open Farm Sunday will take place on the 5th June 2016 so please put the date in your diary now and keep up with all the Open Farm Sunday news on our website www.farmsunday.org and follow us on Twitter @openfarmsunday

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

David Jones

David Jones, Open Farm Sunday Regional Coordinator for the East of England

David Jones is a farm manager for Morley Farms Ltd in Norfolk growing 800 hectares of combinable crops and sugar beet. The farm also hosts about 35 hectares of field trials for NIAB TAG, the John Innes Centre, Agrovista and others. Every year the farm has about 800 visitors including school children, students, farmers, consultants and international groups. David has helped and co-hosted several Open farm Sunday events and in 2013 became and Open Farm Sunday Regional Coordinator for the East of England.

So you have registered your Open Farm Sunday, you have cut some grass, swept the farm from the sheds to the stables, banners are up, handed out invites, developed a car park with an elaborate one way system.  First car arrives. It’s the June 7th Open Farm Sunday is GO!

But what are you going to TELL your visitors, well don’t TELL them anything.

SHARE your farm

SHARE your experiences

SHARE what it’s like throughout the year

SHARE the life of your crops and your animals

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Share the magic of farming this Open Farm Sunday!

So often I have been on visits to other businesses where people tell you about how many widgets they produce, how many million man hours they use but rarely do I find out what they actually do. Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes, think about what will interest them in and, more importantly, what they are likely to remember next week, next year.

  • Use facts that are memorable to adults and children. For example, 1 square metre of wheat could produce 1kg = 1 loaf of bread. NOT ‘we get a yield of 10t/ha which makes 10000 loaves of bread’. What does a tonne look like? What’s a hectare and 10 000 loaves would make me sick!
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms so explain what you mean when you say ‘the cows are served’ or ‘the barley is drilled’ and explain who and what is LEAF
  • Use props, if talking about silage, stand next to some or have some in a large bucket so your visitors don’t only hear and see but also smell and feel. If you are explaining part of a cycle or system like how you make hay, if the machines are not to hand why not get some toy tractors to show the process.  Simply use a white board to show the life cycle of a sheep flock (it works for school teachers).
  • Can your visitors hear you? Consider getting a microphone or simply manage the group size.
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Use props and talk about farming in ways that children and adults will remember

To help farmers and others get better at sharing their experiences, there are lots of tips and ideas on the Open Farm Sunday website.  Another great resource is a website called Farming is Magic which is a collection of short films that give lots of tips and techniques on how to make your presentation more memorable. Have a look for yourself here www.farmingismagic.co.uk

And good luck sharing some of the magic in farming on Open Farm Sunday on the 7th June!

Open Farm Sunday is farming’s national open day and takes place on the 7thJune 2015.  To find a farm near you go to: www.farmsunday.org or email: openfarmsunday@leafuk.org

Promoting your Open Farm Sunday Event – collaboration is key

Phil Gorringe is a second generation farmer brought up in Herefordshire.  He farms Lower Blakemere Farm in West Herefordshire, a 1200 arable and beef farm.  Phil is the West Midlands Open Farm Sunday Co-ordinator and as a member of LEAF, he is an advocate of engaging the public through farm and school visits.  He is also involved in promoting farming through social media @FarmrPhil.   Phil has been involved with Open Farm Sunday since it first started in 2006.  Here he shares his suggestions on promoting your event and getting it noticed.

Phil Gorringe

Phil Gorringe, West Midlands Open Farm Sunday Regional Coordinator

In my experience, after health and safety, the promotion of your OFS event is the next most queried topic by host farmers.

Start at the end!

Before thinking about promoting your day, it is best to start at the end.  Decide how many people you would like to visit and then work backwards.  For most farmers, the fear is being overrun by visitors so this is an important decision.  It will be influenced by factors such as timing (morning events will normally attract fewer visitors), accessibility, facilities, attractions and possible contingency plans in the event of more people arriving than you expected.

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The best place to start to promote your event is at the end! Decide how many people you would like to visit and then work backwards

 Collaboration is key

Having decided on the size of event you want to run, there are a multitude of methods you can use to promote it.  For most farms, an attendance of 75 to 150 people is the norm.  Promotion for this sort of event will be predominantly local and in my experience is best achieved by your own local networks.

There are many possibilities here but for us, our vet, the local farm co-operative and our landlords agent were the best ones from the business.  Machinery dealers, auctioneers and contractors are also usually up for contributing.  On an individual level, a personal invitation via the local pub, village shop, the school, parish website always work well.  If you invite representatives from some of these groups to participate or help on the day, that will encourage them to promote your event themselves.  Remember to include groups such as the Scouts, Rotary Club, WI and local conservation groups.  Collaboration is the key and the most effective way to promote and run a successful OFS event.  Make use of the free resources provided by LEAF to help spread the work – distributing postcards, pinning up posters and displaying the OFS banner will really help to get your event noticed.  Order them here.

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Open Farm Sunday is an industry wide initiative.  Working with others at a local level is the most effective way to promote your Open Farm Sunday event

Your event will be publicised nationally via the OFS website so it is important to put the correct information up to describe your event.  For example, if you happen to have a TV star lurking on the farm, be careful as this sort of thing can lead to unexpected numbers!   Having said this, it is of benefit to other OFS events for each one to promote the day on a broader stage.  Therefore, it is usually quite easy to get media coverage.  If you have someone who is good on the radio, contact your local station and get an interview in the week leading up to Open Farm Sunday.  Send a press release (you can download a template here and fill in your own details), preferably with a picture to your local paper.  Make it concise and interesting and they will be only too pleased to print it.  There’s lots of good advice on working with the media in the Host Farmer Handbook, sent free to all OFS host farmers when they register.

Embrace Social Media

The subject of social media always comes up at some point.  I am happy to embrace it with caution and we use Facebook and Twitter.  It is conceivable that if you unwittingly post something that is far more of a draw than you imagined, you could end up with more people than you bargained for.  However, in my experience this has never happened, but consider what you post before clicking ‘post’.  Also, it is always good to use photos – a picture is worth a thousand words.

Finally, it can be useful to try and get an idea of how many are intending to visit and one way to achieve this is to invite them to book in advance for a particular activity you may be running such as tractor and trailer rides.  The number who actually book will not reflect the actual attendance on the day, but it does give you an indication of the effectiveness of your promotion.

In summary, think about what would engage you when promoting your event – and address any concerns you may have and you will enjoy a stress free day taking part in the largest national event of public access to our farms.

Open Farm Sunday is farming’s national open day and takes place on the 7thJune 2015. To register your event and order FREE resources, go to: www.farmsunday.org or email: openfarmsunday@leafuk.org.  To find a farm that’s open near you click here

LEAF – basking in yellow and red!

LEAF has been truly awash with yellow and red recently.  Not post-election fallout but from the beautiful, vibrant colours of tomatoes and peppers grown on our two latest LEAF Demonstration Farms – Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd who were officially launched yesterday and become LEAF’s first Demonstration Farms in the glasshouse sector.

Eric Wall Ltd Launch as a LEAF Demonstration Farm 13 May 15

Eric Wall Ltd is officially launched as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Pictured left to right: Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman; Chris Wall, Managing Director of Eric Wall Ltd; Mary Bosley; Richard Kooijman Production Manager at Eric Wall Ltd; Tracey Hughes General Manager at Eric Wall Ltd and Kathryn Mitchell, IFM Development Manager, LEAF.

Both businesses are world leaders in growing top quality tomatoes and peppers to the very highest standards of environmental care, through Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and join over 40 other LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the UK, set up to demonstrate the principles and practices of IFM.

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LEAF Demonstration Farms demonstrate the nine sections of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

The addition of Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd to the LEAF Demonstration Farm network will bring a hugely valuable insight into the practical application of IFM to commercial glasshouse growing. IFM is all about attention to detail, continuous improvement and optimising resources.

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Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd welcomed as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Pictured left to right: Mark Knight, Technical Crops Manager at Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd; Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive; Pippa Greenwood, gardening broadcaster; Andrew Burgess, LEAF Trustee and Gerard Vonk, General Manager, Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd.

Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd are industry leaders in growing top quality produce through cutting edge technology, commitment to environmental sustainability and extensive programmes of research and development. The principles of IFM underpin both businesses – helping to guide decisions on ways to drive efficiency, reduce waste, manage water use and working with nature to optimise the unique ecosystem of the glasshouse environment.

LEAF Demonstration Farms are at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries will play a critical role in inspiring others in the food and farming industry as well as raising awareness amongst the public about how their food is grown to high standards of environmental care, recognised in store by the LEAF Marque.

7 Eric Wall Ltd LEAF Marque Tomatoes

LEAF Demonstration Farms play a critical role in raising awareness amongst the public about how their food is grown to high standards of environmental care, recognised in store by the LEAF Marque.

The official launch of both sites took place on Wednesday 13th May. Eric Wall Ltd was launched by Mary Bosley, Chair of the Horticulture Innovation Partnership and gardening broadcaster, Pippa Greenwood launched Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd.

Further information about Eric Wall Ltd is available here and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd here.  If you are interested in visiting Eric Wall Ltd or Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd or another LEAF Demonstration Farm, to learn more about Integrated Farm Management in practice, please click here or email: carol.cartwright@leafuk.org

Health and Safety on Open Farm Sunday

Andy Guy is Regional Open Farm Sunday Coordinator for the East Midlands.  This will be Andy’s  tenth Open Farm Sunday and he remains just as excited about the event now as he was back in 2006.  Here, he shares some of his Health and Safety top tips. 

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Andy Guy, Open Farm Sunday East Midlands Regional Coordinator

As I write this piece, in late April, about Health and Safety on Open Farm Sunday, most hosts will be torn between fieldwork and first cut silage but there are important priorities that need your attention ahead of the big day.  However, the safety of your visitors, helpers and staff on 7th June is your responsibility thinking ahead now can save a lot of time later.

Here are some of my key pointers below, but do read the H&S guidance given (pages 10 to 14) in the 2015 Host Farmer Handbook.

Risk Assessment

Always a top priority. Risk assessments help you identify the hazards on your farm and work out how to minimise and control them. The aim is to find all the things that might cause harm to somebody and list them, along with the type of injury that might be inflicted. List what you already do to reduce the risk of injury or harm and work out whether it will be sufficient to protect your visitors. If you need to do more, then record the actions required, who will implement them and when.

One tip, which makes risk assessment easier for me is to find a friend to walk round your farm with you (my self-employed builder pal has proved most useful). A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful!

You’ll find a blank risk assessment form at the back of your Host Farmers Handbook and remember to give a copy of your completed risk assessment form to your helpers.

Insurance

You need to contact your insurers. Most farm insurance policies cover you for Public Liability and many brokers will be happy to extend the cover to include Open Farm Sunday at no extra cost.  You need a minimum of £5 million public liability insurance (if you regularly host school visits you will probably need £10 million).

Hand washing facilities

If your visitors come into contact with farm animals, you need to provide hand washing facilities – running water, liquid soap and paper towels.  Refer to the industry code of practice here

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Good, temporary hand washing facilities – running water, liquid soap and paper towels

Other key points to consider:

  • No-go areas, such as the grain bin and fertiliser store: Lock up.  Cordon off.  Keep visitors away.
  • If visitors can climb on static machinery: Remove keys.  Limit fuel in the tank.  Brakes on and use chocks.  Spikes down.  Supervise if allowing people into the cab.
  • Livestock bio-security: the golden rule is ‘clean in’, ‘clean off’ and keep visiting stock separate from other stock.
  • Don’t forget to be aware of your personal safety: Keep your house locked.  Be aware of anyone suspicious. Keep valuables locked away or supervised.
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Cordon off any areas that could be hazardous

Getting the planning right now will mean that the day will run smoothly but, if you have any doubts about H&S talk to your OFS Regional Coordinator – they have years of experience in organising and planning events.  Find your nearest OFS Regional Coordinator here and there is lots of H&S information to be found at www.farmsunday.org

Open Farm Sunday is farming’s national open day and takes place on the 7th June 2015. To register you event and order FREE resources, go to: www.farmsunday.org or email: openfarmsunday@leafuk.org

Open Farm School Days: learning opportunities, community engagement and business benefits

Tamara Hall

Tamara Hall

Tamara Hall, Yorkshire and Humber Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator, runs a 1,200 acre arable farm in East Yorkshire.  She is passionate about giving children the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and has been hosting visits for children for many years.   She has been hugely instrumental in the development of Open Farm School Days, which began two years ago.  Tamara tells us more about her Open Farm School Days events, how they are run and their many benefits.

We have been running visits to the farm for local school children for many years and involved in Open Farm School Days since the very beginning.  We started with just the Friday before Open Farm Sunday as a way of publicising our Open Farm Sunday event and so increasing visitor numbers. We believed that the children would bring their parents back on the following Sunday and show them what they learnt. This worked and was definitely worth doing.

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A young visitor inspired by farming

However, we quickly realised that the children were in a much better frame of mind for learning when in a school situation, rather than with their parents!  As we don’t have a farm shop and are purely doing farm visits for educational purposes and community goodwill, we decided that our time was better spent doing more school visits and the following year we ran four days with nearly 1,000 children, parents and helpers visiting our farm.

The benefit of doing these visits alongside Open Farm Sunday is that we believe it helps to get the schools to visit us. Open Farm Sunday has been a massive success with a large public recognition of the brand. This trust in the quality of Open Farm Sunday helps the schools believe in the value of Open Farm School Days. By focusing our visits on one week of the year, we can ensure the farmyard is clean and tidy. We stop farm jobs from 10am-3pm each of these days and we feel this is safer than running visits throughout the year. Livestock is bought in for this week, allowing a much wider educational experience for the children as we are purely arable the rest of the year.

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Open Farm School Days would not happen without our fantastic helpers!

Many local farmers and people employed in local agriculture help on these days. Without them we would not be able to host these events. Apart from their valuable time, this is also essential as they are each experts in their own field and their enthusiasm for their industry is obvious and transferred to the children!  Having the open days over a few set days makes it easier to ask our volunteers early in the year and I think this helps recruit help. Now we find the same people come back each year and know what they are doing so well that it has become pretty easy. As we have seven groups each day, each group only spends 20-30 minutes at each activity. As a farmer it is easy to keep a group interested for this length of time and allows each group of children to see seven different parts of UK Agriculture, from sheep to pigs, arable, wildlife management and more.

The best thing about Open Farm School Days now is that we get fantastic feedback and had all three days for this June fully booked by the middle of last September!

Another unexpected benefit to the business has been the networking side of the event. Our local John Deere reps (RBM) host the machinery activity and we have definitely got a better relationship with them following this. Gleadells Agriculture fund some of the coaches from disadvantaged areas and this led to me helping them with their new website, alongside better relations in grain marketing. Stuart Bradshaw, from our local Mill, Bradshaws, hosts the arable activity and we have now started selling our Hard Group 4 wheat to them, on an average spec contract at a better price than offered elsewhere. None of these business benefits would have come about without Open Farm School Days.

Open Farm School Days run throughout June. They provide thousands of school children with the opportunity to visit a farm to learn more about where their food comes from and how it is produced.  For more information and to get involved click here

My Open Farm Sunday Journey

Rebecca Dawes lives in Kinross, Scotland on the family farm which comprises of beef, sheep and a little arable. The family moved to the farm in 2013 after selling their farm in England. This will be the 9th year that they have been involved in Open Farm Sunday only missing the year they moved!  Away from the farm, Rebecca works for the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs as their Communications and Rural Affairs Manager, and last year took on the role of Scottish Coordinator for Open Farm Sunday.

When asked to write this blog, it seemed a good opportunity to look back and review why we opened our farm and if our aspirations have changed. Charity support and community engagement is something very important to our family and on moving to a new farm, we discovered the local primary school was looking for funds to purchase books for the library. We quickly decided to organise a Lambing Day where visitors were encouraged to make a donation to the cause. Educating the general public has also been something close to our hearts, welcoming work experience students and local school groups for visits gives us a further opportunity to tell visitors what we do.

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Rebecca Dawes, Scottish Coordinator for Open Farm Sunday

By the time of the Lambing Event, we had only been in the farm for six months so promotion was kept to the local village and other than the school’s cake and bring and buy stall, visitors just got to watch the lambing and chat to the farmer. Yet on the day, hundreds of people turned out hoping to spot a lamb being born and experience that ‘on-farm feeling’. This quickly became an annual event with the same purpose – to support local projects and showcase food and farming.

Fourteen years later and Open Farm Sunday was launched. Our event quickly moved from April to June incorporating further activities to educate the general public about the source of their food. The school ran farm related activities for children such as scarecrow building, a simple farmer question time allowed visitors to find out the facts behind farm life, local art and craft stalls sold their homemade goods and information stalls such as the Air Ambulance and British Wool Marketing Board helped raise awareness of these essential industry bodies. We made burgers and sausages from our own beef and pork and sold these as hot refreshments showcasing the food chain, low food miles and creating a little income to help cover the cost of the event. However, the materials offered free from LEAF (posters, leaflets, postcards, banners, road signs, etc) allowed us to keep these costs to the minimum.

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Rebecca Dawes (left) inspiring others about farming, food and the countryside

Ten years on and a recent move to our new farm in Scotland – have our motives changed? ….No! So when we open our farm this year we will be doing so to:

  • Raise money for our local charity
  • Promote ‘buy local’ and ‘low food miles’
  • Raise awareness for industry bodies who support agriculture
  • Offer local producers the opportunity to sell their goods direct
  • Allow visitors the opportunity to ask questions
  • And….to provide families a day on the farm which for some will be their first time.

As farmers we sometimes forget that our everyday activities are exciting and fascinating to those experiencing it for the first time. One of the most rewarding aspects of Open Farm Sunday is seeing a child cuddle a chick or an adult hearing about the process of rearing a lamb – who best to educate the public, than us the farmers! So in this, the tenth year of Open Farm Sunday when there will be more awareness for the campaign, let’s encourage more farms to open their gates and shout about British Farming!

And remember….your event does not need to be big or long and there is plenty of support available from LEAF. If you are thinking about getting involved but still not 100% sure, get in touch with your Regional Coordinator or telephone LEAF, we are here to help!

Open Farm Sunday takes place on the 7th June 2015 and Open Farm School Days run throughout June.  To find your nearest participating farm, please visit http://www.farmsunday.org

The Big Farmland Bird Count: evaluating the impact of your conservation efforts

The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count has officially started!  Running from the 7th to the 15th February, it will see thousands of farmers and gamekeepers get out their binoculars and note pads and get twitching!  I will certainly be out and about on my local farm later this week trying to put into practice my new-found Bird Identification Skills.

Last year, I joined in the first GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. We had a very enjoyable half hour observing a range of birds on an area of wild bird seed mix surrounded by hedgerows with some hedgerow trees. However, to me personally, many of the birds, whilst slightly different in size, were all LBJs (Little Brown Jobs!).  I was delighted therefore to attend one of the 12 GWCT Farmland Bird ID Days. The wealth of knowledge by the farmland bird experts as well as the collective knowledge of the attendees was truly inspiring.

Tree Sparrow - one of hundreds of farmland birds to be counted this week during the Big Farmland Bird Count Image © Peter Thompson, GWCT

Tree Sparrow – one of hundreds of farmland birds to be counted this week during the Big Farmland Bird Count Image © Peter Thompson, GWCT

Many farmers across the UK, and worldwide, invest a large amount of time and resource to provide for wildlife on their farms. For birds, the needs can be summarised into 3 areas – ‘The Big Three’:

– Provision of nesting sites

– Provision of insect-rich habitats in the summer

– Provision of seed-rich habitats in winter and spring

Whilst different species require slightly different habitats to provide these resources, the aim is to provide year-round food supply as well as shelter.

With so many farmers doing this, LEAF is pleased to be working with the GWCT and BASF to support the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. It is a great collective opportunity to take the time to try and identify the impacts for farmland birds of your work to conserve and enhance habitats as well as communicate these facts to our wider communities. These are both important parts of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management.

I still cannot claim to be anywhere near proficient with Farmland Bird Identification, however, there is reassurance from the fact that noting down a bird’s ‘jizz’ can help identify it later. If you are not yet an expert, get out there and look nonetheless and be sure to record the following attributes to allow for later identification of your LBJs.:

A birds jizz can include:

  • Any distinctive features
  • Size – approx. the size of a sparrow? A blackbird? A partridge? Etc.
  • Location – did you see it in the field? In the hedge?
  • Flight – was the flight pattern slow? Fast? Lilting? Smooth?
  • Did it walk or hop?
  • How many – was the bird along or in a flock?
  • Calls

We look forward to seeing the collective responses from all your Big Farmland Bird Counts.