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 the Open Farm Sunday Regional Coordinator for the East of England.
One of the key things to remember when organising your event is how to make it memorable so that your visitors go away with a positive memory of their visit to your farm. The general rule is that people remember:
- 10% of what they read
- 30% of what they see, but
- 90% of what they say and do
- 20 minutes is the average attention span of an adult, less for a child
So engaging visitors in a range of short activities is advised. One idea is to run a little competition or game. For example, fill some jars with seeds (wheat, barley, grass seed, clover etc), then have some plants growing in pots and display the foods that the crop produces. The game is to match the seed to the plant to the food. It’s something for the kids to do with their parents help and probably grandma knows all the answers! My thought is that as long as people make an effort they get a prize, it could be a lollipop, sticker, pen, key ring, it works for kids of ALL ages. This is a great way of breaking the ice and to start a conversation about crops and the foods they produce.
Virtually everyone loves sitting on tractors and machinery. The other thing that kids of all ages like is a spot the difference competition. Instead of two photos, why not have two real tractors! If you ask someone nicely it may be possible to have two tractors virtually the same. It could be simple things like take a light off or remove the toolbox. This gives people the chance to really look at the tractor rather than just sitting in it and you get lots of questions – What does this bit do? What it this for? We found that some spotted the simple differences but others noticed there was a wrong colour washer used underneath the mud guard. The point is that it is not just sitting on a tractor and if you have made an effort you get a lollipop!
There is nothing worse than a person standing behind a table with a banner and a few leaflets. It can be intimidating for people on both sides; so as a visitor with children, how do you make conversation? Is it interesting for me? For my 2 year old? For my 6 year old? And how do I break the ice?
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 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 10 000 loaves of bread’. What does a tonne look like? What is 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 – the organisers of Open Farm Sunday
- Use props, if talking about silage, stand next to some or have some in a large bucket so your visitors not 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.
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
So when you have registered your Open Farm Sunday, you are preparing your event, 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 11th Open Farm Sunday is GO!
Please don’t TELL your visitors… engage them:
SHARE your farm
SHARE your experiences
SHARE what it’s like throughout the year
SHARE the life of your crops and your animals
And good luck sharing some of the magic in farming!
LEAF Open Farm Sunday is farming’s annual open day and takes place on the 11thJune 2017. Register your event and order FREE resources here . To find a farm that’s open near you click here. Remember to tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event.