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.

Kick start your Open Farm Sunday Event – start planning now!

Ross Mitchell runs Castleton Farm near Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire, with his parents and wife Anna. Castleton Farm is a 710 acre family run business devoted to fruit production growing strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries, supplying leading supermarket chains such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer. There is also a thriving Farm Shop and Café selling home grown fruit and locally sourced produce.   Ross tells us about why he got involved with Open Farm Sunday for the first time last year and shares some of his personal top tips for a successful event…

Ross Mitchell opened up for Open Farm Sunday for the first time in 2014

Ross Mitchell opened up for Open Farm Sunday for the first time in 2014

Last year was the first year we had ever considered opening the farm for Open Farm Sunday. It seemed a good time – we had gained our LEAF Marque certificate and won The Royal Northern Agricultural Society Best Farming Award so, we felt opening the farm would be a great opportunity to show the public what we were about.

It is fair to say that some of my team were sceptical about the task in hand – after all, we are farmers not public speakers! After a little gentle nudging we went along to a LEAF Information Event to give us an idea about what Open Farm Sunday would involve and also to get inspired!   It really helped answer some of our questions and get us all motivated. Our main issue was how to make soft fruit as warm and snuggly as cows, sheep and llamas so that children (and adults!) would engage. Meeting other more experienced farmers who had done it for several years put our minds at ease and we picked up some new ideas on activities and how to promote our event. Thankfully, the team did lots of brain storming after reading the information and plans were quickly hatched. Although, like most farmers, I don’t like being inside – there is always something more interesting to do outside! – we did make sure that we had regular meetings about our Open Farm Sunday event and everyone on the team would bring something new each time.

Tractor and trailer rides were a huge hit

Tractor and trailer rides were a huge hit

Going along to the Information Event was a great kick start to planning our event. Being new to Open Farm Sunday it really helped to give us confidence about issues such as health and safety, promotion and planning activities.

Here are a few of my own top tips:

  • If you are doing tractor and trailer rides make sure you book the trailers early and book enough so that you don’t have hundreds waiting for the next ride.
  • Do a trial run before the day – this tests out your timings, your talk and, if you invite your team and their families, helps you deal with the most inquisitive child!
  • Get as many people on board to help you as you can – the farm team, family, friends, adjacent farmers who aren’t opening their farm, your local young farmers, suppliers – all can bring something to the day and ease the stress element.
  • Make sure you have a wet weather plan – it is after all the UK summer!
  • Involve your visitors – OK we didn’t have animals but people loved to get in the strawberry tunnels to pick their own fruit. We gave them quizzes to do as they were going round the tour – one for the kiddies and one for the big kids – so in essence they had to listen to at least some of what we were saying!

On the day itself, just be enthusiastic, helpful and informative. Not everything is going to go as you planned but heh, if you can laugh with your visitors at having to do a 3 point turn with a tractor and trailer as you missed the gate, then that’s half the battle! Above all enjoy yourself and look forward to the pint at 5pm!

Open Farm Sunday 2015 takes place on 7th June, register here or come along to a free Information Event to find out how to get involved.

Sustainability in practice: improving performance

I was recently reading some fascinating work by a leading management lecturer at Harvard University about why we measure performance.  He stressed that different purposes require different measures, but the process of review to inform improvement is present in nearly every sector of life. Why is this seen as such a critical process in so many walks of life? Within this work, Robert Behn highlights 8 managerial purposes for assessing business performance:

  1. Evaluate – how well am I/is my business doing?
  2. Control – how can I ensure that I (and my staff) are doing the right thing?
  3. Budget – am I spending money wisely and when can costs be saved?
  4. Motivate – how can I motivate myself and everyone I work with to improve on what we’re already doing?
  5. Promote – how can I demonstrate to everyone I do business with that I am doing a good job?
  6. Celebrate – when I and my team get things right – I want to celebrate success
  7. Learn – what’s working or not working?
  8. Improve- what exactly should we do differently to improve performance?

It seemed to me that these 8 key principles lie at the very heart of why LEAF first developed the LEAF Audit back in 1994.  To help farmers take stock of what they are doing, consider why and use this information to drive forward continual improvement in their businesses from economic, environment and social points of view.

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By a process of annual review through the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review, farmers can get overall picture of their business’ performance

Today, after 20 years of doing just this, the LEAF Audit has come to the end of its own journey.  It is to be replaced by the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review.  Although different in look, feel, ease of navigation and with fewer questions, the general ethos of the LEAF Audits big sister remains very much the same: an on-line, self-assessment management tool to review current farming practices and identify areas for future improvement.

Just like the LEAF Audit, the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will be the bedrock to helping LEAF farmers implement Integrated Farm Management (IFM).  It covers the 9 sections of IFM from Crop Health and Protection, Water and Soil Management, Animal Husbandry through to Community Engagement and Organisation and Planning. Together these sections cover economic performance, environmental quality and social health. We have worked closely with farmers, heard what matters to them, listened to what they want and hope that the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will make a real, practical difference to more sustainable farming.

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The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will be the bedrock to helping LEAF farmers implement Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

There is no one magic performance measure that farmers can use for all of the Behn’s  eight managerial purposes, but by a process of annual review through the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review farmers can get overall picture of their business’ performance. As demand increases in order to feed a growing population sustainably, it is essential for all farms to be working to their optimum, and the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review encourages and enables farmers to continually improve to do just that.

The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review is available to LEAF members through MyLEAF from 1st December.   If you have any questions, please contact the LEAF office tel: +44 (0)2476 413911.

Frogmary Green Farm Joins Network of LEAF Demonstration Farms

We are delighted to welcome Frogmary Green Farm as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. LEAF’s nationwide network of over 40 LEAF Demonstration Farms showcase the very best of sustainable farming practices.

Nick and Claire Bragg run Frogmary Green Farm, a 500 acre poultry and arable farm, based on the edge of South Petherton in Somerset.  The farm also grows potatoes for supermarkets and maize and grass for fodder.  Frogmary Green Farm joined LEAF in 2008, became LEAF Marque certified in 2013 and regularly hosts both Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm Schools Days.

Frogmary LDF Launch

From Left to Right: Lord Cameron of Dillington (Dillington Farms), Nick Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) , Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member), Claire Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) and Caroline Drummond (LEAF Chief Executive)

Speaking at a lovely LEAF Demonstration Farm Launch event yesterday, Nick explained, “LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach is all about striving to achieve balance across the whole farm. We’re working hard in lots of practical ways to conserve and enhance the natural environment by planting trees, creating wetland areas and cutting our carbon footprint.  All of us on the farm care deeply about our precious environment and want to do all we can to enhance it whilst producing food to the highest welfare and environmental standards.  “We are also passionate about bringing people onto the farm, to share what we are doing and help to break down some of the barriers that exist between producers and consumers.”

Frogmary Green Farm was officially welcomed to the network during yesterday’s event which included the planting of a large leaved lime tree by Lord Cameron of Dillington who spoke of the great work Nick and Claire are doing.

A short tour of the farm included a visit to one of the chicken houses, where one of Frogmary Green Farm’s main ‘crops’ can be seen through a viewing gallery. Nick and Claire were the first to install a biomass woodchip boiler for heating chicken houses, utilising locally sourced timber. Other discussions included potato production and more about their ongoing commitment to environmental enhancement such as through the planting of some 4 kilometres of hedgerows and over 500 trees since 2002. Pollen and nectar margins to provide extra habitat for bumblebees and other insects have also been established.  This has resulted in a huge variety of wildlife making its home at Frogmary Green Farm including cuckoo, linnet, song thrush, swift and whitethroat.

Nick and Claire Bragg Frogmary Green Farm, LEAF's latest demonstration farm

Nick and Claire Bragg,  Frogmary Green Farm, the latest LEAF Demonstration Farm

As a LEAF Demonstration Farm, Frogmary Green Farm will act as a ‘living classroom’ demonstrating and promoting the principles of Integrated Farm Management to opinion formers, educationalists, politicians, consumers and conservation groups as well as to community groups and local schools.

LEAF Demonstration Farms play a hugely vital role in sharing best practice amongst farmers as well as being a great way to help educate the public about how modern food production can co-exist with protecting nature and the countryside.  Frogmary Green Farm is an excellent example of sustainable farming in action and represents what Integrated Farm Management is all about.

If you are interested in visiting Frogmary Green Farm, or another LEAF Demonstration Farm, to learn more about Integrated Farm Management in practice, please get in touch with the LEAF office:

EISA Farm Visit to Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Paul Hayward - Cold Harbour farm (credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward – Cold Harbour farm
(credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward, farms Cold Harbour Farm, at Bishop Burton, East Yorkshire and was one of the first LEAF Demonstration Farms, engaging people with Integrated Farm Management since 1993, soon after LEAF was founded. Paul recently took part in an EISA (European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture) visit to Germany and here he tells us more about what he saw and learnt.

Last month, I was privileged to join the EISA visit to Germany as an observer for LEAF along with Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member) and Nick Tilt (LEAF Demonstration Farmer). The whole event was perfectly organised by Andreas Frangenberg and Anton Kraus from EISA.

We attended the DLG field day, an event targeted at crop production professionals, of note it was targeted at the top 20% of farmers. The following link gives a very accurate resume of the visit.

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Credit Helena Elmquist

It was a fascinating visit with some excellent and very informative presentations and I left wanting to explore the issues much further. Representatives from the agrochemical companies seemed to position the farmers as requiring a complete production package including biodiversity rather than recognising them as land managers with good knowledge. We were privileged to be joined by Professor Olaf Christen (agronomy and organic farming) of Halle University, obviously a talented academic with a good practical understanding of European crop production.

The following day we were given a guided tour of the BASF Biodiversity Farm at Quellenhof by Dr Markius Gerber. A project started in 2012 on the 10, 600 hectare farm which had lost much of its natural habitats in the East German era. Work on a range of measures had started with some impressive results. However, with fields of 250 hectares, there is much still to do.

 

The group enjoyed a wide range of discussions, benefitting from the diversity of the area and the interests of individuals within the group.

For more information on EISA, please visit http://sustainable-agriculture.org/

Open Farm Sunday 2014 – one month on!

Annabel Shackleton (left) pictured with Owen Paterson MP, Environment Secretary and Josephine Davies at Longslow Farm’s Open Farm Sunday Event

Annabel Shackleton, Open Farm Sunday manager at LEAF, reflects on Open Farm Sunday, one month on.

Hours of planning, inspiration, preparation and hard work all came together on Open Farm Sunday 2014.

One month on, and LEAF is proud to confirm that 2014 was another record-breaking year.  375 farms opened their gates to the public welcoming over 207,000 visitors to discover more about how their food is produced.

We are continuing to collate feedback, figures and stats from farmers and visitors alike. Individuals so appreciative of the events and activities farmers organised to showcase British farming and food.  Farmers so proud of what they achieved and delighted to see their staff and helpers sharing their passion for the industry with their local communities.  Teachers and school children enthused to be out on farms and being inspired by their visit.

Looking back over the past month, it is worth reminding ourselves the impact Open Farm Sunday has on farmers, the public, our communities and the wider industry.

Open Farm Sunday provides a wonderful opportunity to experience farming first hand

First and foremost, Open Farm Sunday reaches out to so many people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit a farm. It welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds and gives them a wonderful opportunity to experience farming first hand. For some it will have been their first visit to a farm.  For many, it will have inspired them to think a little bit more about their food and what goes into producing it.   It will have encouraged some to make changes to what they buy and what they feed their children – hopefully seeking out more local, British and sustainably produced food.  We hope it will have helped engender a greater respect for food, the farmers who produce it and the role farmers have as custodians of our precious countryside.

Open Farm Sunday also brings communities together encouraging farmers to work with neighbouring farmers, industry suppliers, local groups and individuals to share what they do.  Once again it has been a fabulous opportunity to showcase all that farmers and industry does to produce great food in sustainable ways which safeguard our environment.

So whilst the visitors may have gone home, the machinery put away and the farm returns ‘to normal’ the impact of Open Farm Sunday will remain long after we close the gates – until next year!

On behalf of the LEAF Team a huge thank you to the 6,000 farmers and their helpers who took part this year to make this the best Open Farm Sunday yet.  Our thanks also to our wonderful sponsors, who’s support make it all possible:  Asda, BASF, Country Life butter, Defra, Farmers Weekly, Frontier Agriculture, John Deere, Kellogg’s, LEAF Marque, Marks and Spencer, National Farmers Union, Syngenta, Tesco, The Co-operative, Waitrose, plus Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board support from BPEX, DairyCo, Eblex, HDC and HGCA divisions, plus Hellmann’s.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Open Farm Sunday so put the 7th June 2015 in your diary now so we can make the celebrations even bigger!

OFS 2014 Principal Sponsor logos

 

Top Tips for selling your message at Open Farm Sunday

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

In the final of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, David Jones,  Open Farm Sunday Co-ordinator for the Eastern region, tells us how he engages the public on his farm at Open Farm Sunday.

“This is a Golden Opportunity”

 As the big day draws near it is time to double-check everything is ready. There are only so many things that can be done last-minute.

At most Open Farm Sunday events the support from helpers is vital. It is important however that before the day they know how they are expected to contribute to the event. For example car park helpers (the clue is in the title) but do they know what to do if there are more cars than expected or if there is a request for wheel chair access? Helpers with stalls/refreshments do they need tables or power, farm buildings were never built with tea urns in mind!

People are always willing to help but don’t want to be lumbered with being on duty all day without a break. Have a rota and/or make provision for them to get something ‘free’ to eat and drink. Do you need a voucher system to get free drinks – the last thing you need is a disgruntled helper.

Helpers with speaking parts are the most important way of getting your message across to the visitors. This is a golden opportunity not to be missed.

Here are my 5 top tips to getting the messages across to visitors:

1. Location

Location is importantConsider where you are going to stand. If talking about cows in a cubical shed, put a cow there and have a temporary gate so she stays near you. If talking about oil seed rape cut a pathway into the crop so people are in and amongst it (a 50m X 3m path way would cost only £18 in lost crop).

2. Being heard

Find locations with less back ground noise. Consider using a mega phone or speaker system. These can be hired/bought/borrowed (from schools, scout group for example). When speaking, face your visitors – they will have more chance of hearing what you say.  Ask visitors questions, engage them in a conversation rather than talking at them.

3. Props

Make the link with food.  Whilst standing in the oilseed rape why not have a bottle of oil or mayonnaise so visitors can see the end produce and relate the crop to what they eat. Have a couple of jars with seeds or fertiliser in.  You could have a brick and stone, or pestle and mortar so someone can crush some seeds and see the oil extracted. With livestock have a wheel barrow full of silage and bucket of feed so people can see what you are talking about, they can smell and touch (as appropriate). Have a plough point to hold or some combine parts.    Consider using the ‘mini field concept’ where you talk about the inputs and outputs relating to a square metre of field – see the facts and figures here.

4. Printed materials

Print off some photos as big as you can, laminate if possible. Show what the fields/crops look like at different times of the year. Show how quickly lambs grow week by week.

5. Enough is enough

 Often less is more, don’t waffle on. If you have an awkward visitor with 100s of questions, rather than answering them all during the tour, suggest that they come back later. It is often said that an audience can only take things in for 7 minutes so talk for 6.45 minutes then move on to a new location.

It is a good idea that presenters meet up before 8th June to iron out some of the finer points and it gives time to gather resources.

You may have spent the last  4 months working towards  Open Farm Sunday 2014 and looking forward to 5pm when everyone has gone home but don’t forget to thank the helpers and discuss the day while it is fresh in everyone’s mind – and make notes.  Feedback is important it may just make Open Farm Sunday 2015 a little better but a whole lot easier.


About David

David Jones is a farm manager for Morley Farms Ltd in Norfolk growing 730 hectares of combinable crops and sugar beet. The farm also hosts about 35ha 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 Regional Coordinator for the eastern region.

 

Engaging visitors at Open Farm Sunday

Tom Allen Stevens, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator

Tom Allen Stevens, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator

In the tenth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Tom Allen-Stevens, South East Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator, tells us how he engages the public on his farm at Open Farm Sunday.

I don’t much care for BBC’s Countryfile, but there is one part I really enjoy. Ever since they made Adam’s Farm a regular feature, it’s made the programme worth watching.

What makes Adam’s Farm stand out? I think it’s the fact that he’s an actual farmer, talking about something he is passionate about, and it’s usually on his own farm. There’s an honesty about the way he pats his Gloucester bull or grasps an ear of wheat and then tells you about.  It really does make compelling viewing.

But there’s nothing mind-blowingly fascinating about Adam’s Farm – it’s not like he’s trialling a GM crop, forging a solution to TB or inventing a new way in wool. It’s just the ordinary goings on of a Gloucestershire farm. And I think that’s the secret to it, it’s why the programme draws in nine million viewers every week, and what makes 200,000 people visit farms on Open Farm Sunday.

They’ve come to meet the farmer – experience a little of what it’s like to grow food and care for the countryside. So what I always try to do when I’m showing visitors around or explaining something is tell them about my farm from my point of view. I keep it personal and tell them about the things I enjoy, or dread, or what matters to me – it’s when you’re at your most honest, and most comfortable, and I think people really appreciate it.

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I’ve a few key props I always use. Firstly, an apple and a knife. I remember when I was first shown the apple trick, and it just clicked – have a look at the download instructions to find out more. It’s a really great way to tell the farming story.

Also something to taste – I usually cut up some bread and provide some rapeseed oil for people to dip it in. It makes the whole experience more memorable if you engage more of the senses. And then something for them to take away. One thing I found works really well (and it sounds absurd) is to pull up a wheat plant, and then share round the tillers to all the children in the group. We’ll count the grain sites, number of leaves or judge how much disease it’s got. You’ll often find those children still have their special ear of wheat when they leave the farm.

I always try to keep it positive too – there are all sorts of negatives in farming, but Open Farm Sunday is about how my farm’s making a positive contribution to farming. So negatives are banned – it makes you feel much better about yourself if you just concentrate on the positives, and I swear it’s more engaging. If you introduce a bit of magic that helps – everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so why not give a child a bean and suggest it may be a magic one? Or could there be fairies in your wood?

My final rule is to keep it jargon-free. You’d be surprised at the words we use that mean something totally different to non-farmers, or are complete gobbledegook. Headland, drill, for instance. An acre is about the size of a football pitch, a heifer is a female cow and an agronomist a crop doctor.

I think we all admire the way Adam tells us about his farm in such an engaging and open manner. But I think every farmer can do the same – we all have a fascinating story to tell, and we’re at our best when we’re on our own farm telling people about the things that truly matter to us.

Register for Open Farm Sunday here >