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…
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.
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!