In the second 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, explains how he was inspired by his first Open Farm Sunday workshop.
It was curiosity as much as anything that prompted me to go to the first Open Farm Sunday workshop I attended. It was held at the Overbury Estate in Gloucestershire, and I was keen to have a snoop around as much as to learn about putting on an event.
The potential downside was that I felt I was going to come away feeling a bit inadequate – Overbury’s a LEAF Demonstration Farm and a bit of a jewel in the crown of English rural estates, while manager Jake Freestone’s the master of public engagement. Was there any way my planned event would match up?
But the workshop was actually a real inspiration. I’d arrived with a host of questions – what sort of activities should I put on? Was I allowed to let children clamber all over the combine? Should they stroke the animals?
I soon realised it’s not about abiding by a set of rules, however. Whenever a question was raised, it was usually countered with “What does everyone think?”, and the answer usually lay in common sense that would come from the ensuing discussion – it’s immensely empowering and you soon realise that the most important aspect of Open Farm Sunday is that it’s YOUR event about what YOU want to show people on YOUR farm.
That’s not to say there wasn’t really useful structure and guidance throughout the workshop – it leads you through all the niggly aspects of an event, from how to approach publicity, through ideas on activities to aspects of health and safety to be aware of. The bit I found most inspiring was on getting your message across – LEAF has good pedigree in this area from its Speak Out training, and this was condensed really neatly into one of the final sessions of the afternoon.
The guidance and the discussions from that day will always remain with me – I don’t think we’d have had the confidence to put on our first event without it. As it was, it was a real success, and we’ve done three more Open Farm Sunday events since. Overbury may have the charm, diversity and facilities of a large Cotswold estate, but we’ve got our own charms and secrets, and it never ceases to amaze me how interested people are in day-to-day farming routine.
As South East regional co-ordinator, I’m now in the privileged position of running these events this year – which have evolved into a roadshow covering Exeter to Inverness with 24 events! All of us, with LEAF’s help and guidance, put a lot of time and focus into ensuring we bring to these roadshows the latest ideas and guidance. But still, the most inspiring aspect is always what the attending farmers themselves bring, and the most rewarding bit for me is when a first-time host farmer leaves at the end of the afternoon and you can tell they have that same sense of empowerment.
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.