Author Archives: Tom Hills

Have I got loos for you! Open Farm Sunday Event Progress

Huw Rowlands, North West Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator

In the ninth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Huw Rowlands, North West Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator, tells us how the planning for his own event is progressing.

Open Farm Sunday has a habit of sneaking up on me.  One day it’s months away and we are thinking about how to get water pipes thawed so the Red Poll cattle can drink, and the next we are wishing we had done more to prepare for the big day with the realisation that cows have nearly all calved, crops are growing, days, like beer from micro-brewers, have become lighter, and almost half a year has slipped by.  This year will be different…

Huw Rolands

Photograph courtesy of Jan Wilson, Brackendale Photography.

We usually offer guided farm walks, which are popular. Visitors enjoy meeting our Red Poll cattle, especially the young calves.  The route for the walks is organised and my script is prepared, helped by strategic landmarks around the farm such as a particular willow tree, a new fence, or even a strategically placed mineral bucket to act as prompts and reminders.  I always include local history, geology, land use, and natural history as well as information about our farming practices so that there is something of interest for everyone.  Plans and offerings for the day from the other organisations involved are also now almost firmed up, and regular email updates ensure that everyone knows what everyone else is doing.   The week before Open Farm Sunday we will all meet in person to ensure that any problems and difficulties foreseen are dealt with, leaving only the unforeseen to react to on the day.  All that remains is to promote our event locally using the free resources provided by LEAF.  There is still plenty of time to order and distribute publicity material from the Open Farm Sunday website if you haven’t already got this far.  We regularly update and amend our entry on the Open Farm Sunday website to ensure that it is current and that there are no disappointed visitors.

Have I Got Loos For You!

Always a concern to those opening their farms on Open Farm Sunday is what to do about toilets for visitors.  Guidance can be obtained from the Health and Safety Executive website and from Farming and Countryside Education. It is worth remembering that Open Farm Sunday is a one-off event and so visitors will not be expecting palatial surroundings in which to perform their ablutions.  You may be happy to let people use the toilet in your house, especially if you are only expecting a small number of visitors and if they are known to you anyway.  Alternatively, you can do as we have successfully done in the past and team up with a local pub or village hall, both of which will boast superior toilet facilities.  They may also help you promote your event and could also be happy to provide parking on the basis that they will benefit from additional customers on the day.  This sort of arrangement also saves on the expense of hiring portable toilets.  Legally, you do not have to provide separate toilets for men and women.  A little bit of thought about how to meet this most basic human requirement will ensure that you end Open Farm Sunday flushed with success.


A common query about Open farm Sunday is what to do about catering.  You don’t have to provide any, although it can be a good way to make some extra money, add to your visitors enjoyment of the day, and especially to showcase your products if, like us, you sell directly to the public.  The key point to remember is that anyone providing food must by law have an up-to-date basic food hygiene certificate.  They are relatively cheap costing as little as £25 for an online course, so it can even be undertaken from the comfort of your home/office.  Your local authority will be able to advise you further.  Again, teaming up with a local pub can often work well, or you might want to ask a local organisation or charity, such as the Women’s Institute, if they would like to provide catering and give them the opportunity for some fund raising.  My top tip for catering is either keep it simple or delegate it.

Register for Open Farm Sunday here >

About Huw

Huw Rowlands farms at Mickle Trafford, Chester, running a Red Poll suckler herd.  Beef is sold directly from the farm and at farmers markets, and the farm offers educational access visits all year and has recently won an Arriva Community Action Award.  The farm is in Higher Level Stewardship and has 10 ha of poplar plantations as well as rotational stewardship crops aimed at enhancing wildlife on the farm.  Huw is also a rail replacement coach co-ordinator!



Activities to engage your visitors on Open Farm Sunday

Andy Guy, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the East Midlands

Andy Guy, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the East Midlands

Due to an unfortunate technical glitch and a long weekend of Easter bank holidays, the Open Farm Sunday blog missed its usual Friday afternoon slot! But fear not, here it is! In the eighth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Andy Guy our Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the East Midlands, gives us an insight into Open Farm Sunday activities.

If you are reading this blog you have either already decided to open your farm on 8th June this year, or you are seriously thinking about taking the plunge for the first time. Whichever category you fall into, you must have some concerns in your mind; How many visitors will turn up? How do I make sure the farm is safe? Do I have enough to interest people?

The first two have already been talked about in previous blog posts [find them here] so I will talk about how to keep your guests entertained.

The truth is that no matter how plain you might think your farm is, it is a world of new discoveries for most of your visitors. The trick you need to pull off on the big day, is finding clever ways to get your messages across without boring your guests.

The statistics show that around a third of visitors last year were aged less than 11 and a further third were 26-45 years old, so they were the parents! So the majority are families with young children and the key to keeping them happy lies in the young ones. Speaking as a parent myself, I know that if the children are enjoying their day, the parents will be very happy too.

Andy talking to some of his visitors

Andy talking to some of his visitors

There have been all sorts of successful activities on farms in the last eight years. There has been pig racing, sheep shearing, pond dipping, wellie whanging and mini-beast safaris!  Farmers have fallen back on old favourites too. Tractor and Trailer rides, guided walks, demonstrations and talks all work well too.

The most successful activities are those which are interactive. Providing a treasure hunt to keep the youngsters interested on a farm walk will mean that you have a chance to talk to their parents about the way you manage the farm.

Giving the children a card and double sided sticky tape means they can collect the things that surprise them and keep them to show to their families. They can collect wool from the fences, feathers and leaves from the hedgerows, grain and straw from the barn building up a map of their route around the farm.

The list of activities is only limited by your imagination, but they will enhance the experience for the families who visit you on 8th June enormously.

If you come up with any new ideas please tweet them to @OpenFarmSunday with the hashtag #OFS14 and you can tweet Andy directly at @AndyGuy1963

Register your farm online at

About Andy

Andy is our Open Farm Sunday coordinator in the East Midlands. He is a huge supporter of LEAF and has been involved in Open Farm Sunday since it began in 2006. He was a LEAF Demonstration Farmer for several years but now describes himself as a “Sustainable Farming Consultant”.

Introducing… Frontier Agriculture

Michelle Andrews, Frontier’s Public Relations Manager

Michelle Andrews, Frontier’s Public Relations Manager

Frontier is the UK’s leading crop inputs and grain marketing business, recognised for its close customer relationships with farmers and grain consumers and its successful management of the whole arable supply chain.  Frontier operates across all aspects of arable crop production and marketing supplying seed, crop protection products and fertiliser to farmers. They have a team of 115 agronomists providing specialist agronomy advice to farmers.  Frontier have been members of LEAF since 2003 and have been a principal sponsor of Open Farm Sunday since 2007.  Michelle Andrews, Frontier’s Public Relations Manager tells us more about the business and why they support LEAF. 

frontierTell us a bit more about Frontier, what is the secret of your success?

We employ more than 800 staff across 46 sites nationwide, with around 150 of those based at our headquarters in Witham St Hughs, near Lincoln. Our success comes from the expertise of all our employees and it’s vital that we attract and retain the best people, who in turn nurture strong relationships with all of our clients. 

seed bags

You pride yourselves in your dedication to your customers and quality products. How do you achieve this?

Our customers know that they can rely on our people for specialist, expert advice and seamless delivery across the supply chain. Customers build close relationships with their own small team of specialists who get to know the people and the farm so that they can tailor their advice to achieve the best possible outcomes for that particular business.

All of our work is supported by research from a national trials programme that covers 140 hectares on 23 sites, and we have a continuing commitment to researching new techniques and technologies that can improve all aspects of crop production, for example we are now able to use our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), to map fields and produce detailed images which can be used to highlight specific crop attributes. It offers benefits in a range of areas including crop health monitoring, weed identification, yield estimates and plant counting.


Farmers are increasingly having to find innovative ways of responding to the challenges of climate change, how do Frontier view their role in helping farmers do this?

Frontier’s agronomists have always taken an integrated approach to crop production. They consider the impact of the rotation on soil health, the use of different cultivation techniques and soil nutrition, as well as crop variety choices. By taking this wider view they are able to help farmers adapt to changing conditions. As we experience more extreme rainfall events for example, we have been looking at the potential of cover crops to capture nutrients, increase soil organic matter and limit leaching and soil erosion. 

What are farmers looking for in their crop protection products?  How are their needs likely to change in the future?

Quite simply, products need to be effective. Good management of the way they are used on the farm ensures that there is less likelihood of resistance and minimises the impact on the environment, and of course that can often lead to cost savings, which are always welcome. In future we are likely to see the development of new crops which are more disease resistant and readily able to extract more nutrients from the soil.

What does Integrated Farm Management mean to Frontier?

The principles of IFM have been the foundation to our agronomy for many years, and we always looking for new ways to improve the service we offer. The use of a range of crop inputs will always be vital for food production, but these need to be managed by using a wide variety of stewardship methods to compliment them. Our Kings division are experts in conservation and cover crops and advise on all aspects of environmental stewardship. This is also complemented by SOYL who specialise in precision crop production and variable rate technology. This combination of specialist services allows the grower to maximise yields while simultaneously limiting the impact on the environment and encouraging biodiversity across the farm.

Why LEAF and Open Farm Sunday?

Frontier is in the privileged position of knowing the agricultural industry inside out and working with farmers every day of the year. We feel it is vitally important to share that knowledge with the public. The work which LEAF does in managing Open Farm Sunday ensures that people can gain a much better understanding of how agriculture works, and based on that they can make more informed decisions and understand the issues faced by farmers. Additionally, many of Frontier’s staff have their own farms and love having the opportunity to show people what goes into producing the food we eat.

Frontier Agriculture are corporate members of LEAF and principle sponsors of Open Farm Sunday, for more information on corporate membership please click here.

How to run a safe Open Farm Sunday event

Jeremy Padfield, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the South West

Jeremy Padfield, Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the South West

In the seventh of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Jeremy Padfield our Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the South West, discusses health and safety for Open Farm Sunday visits and why it doesn’t have to be as dreaded as it often is!

When we first took the decision to open our farm, health and safety was one of my biggest concerns. However, I soon learnt that most of the issues can be resolved with a bit of common sense and preparation.

Number one on the list is to carry out a risk assessment yourself and then get a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ to look around the farm who can pick out maybe one or two hazards that we miss because we see them day in day out. This person could be a neighbouring farmer or someone who is not too familiar with your farm.

A great way of preparing for the big day is to get a map of the farm and buildings. By using a birds eye perspective you can see how the flow of visitors from car park to the various activities is going to work best. It will also highlight where the catering or picnic area (if any) is best located as well as any areas where animals will be situated. It is crucial that these areas are kept well apart and there must be hand washing facilities between the two locations.

The animal areas should be clean and well bedded and anything that your visitor may come into contact with must be clean, such as walkways and gates/ hurdles. Good practice is to have a disinfectant mat or piece of carpet on the entrance, which is a good way of keeping prams and pushchairs clean as well as protecting your livestock!

The animal contact locations should be well supervised with informed staff or volunteers making sure that no one is put at risk to E. coli. Obviously no eating or hand to mouth contact should take place. Visitors should be informed by plenty of signage and verbally from the guys stationed in the area that all (parents and children) must wash their hands when leaving these areas. Watch out also for little Jimmy dropping his dummy and then popping it back in his mouth! Running cold water along with liquid antibacterial soap and paper towels should be supplied.

The ‘bird’s eye’ view of your farm also helps pinpoint high risk areas such as ponds, slurry pits, chemical stores, workshops, grain bin/silos, tractor/trailer areas, electric fences which must be locked or cordoned off with signage and tape.

Having machinery on display is a great crowd pleaser, but make sure that if visitors are allowed onto machines then you have staff supervising this. It is also essential to take the keys out as I remember on our second Open Farm Sunday, when a responsible parent handed us the key to the combine which had hastily been brought out that morning and parked in the yard! Also ensure that any sharp or dangerous parts of machinery are cordoned off to avoid any injury.

Tractor and trailer rides are always popular

Tractor and trailer rides are always popular

Everyone loves the tractor and trailer rides but if you are running this activity then you must ensure that you comply with the current legislation. The main points are that the seating must be fixed, the sides of the trailer should have a hand rail and kick board and no gap big enough for a child to get through and the trailer to have independent braking.

There are two qualifications that will be necessary:

  1. First aid. It is important that someone on site (it doesn’t have to be you) is a first aider who can be available throughout your event.
  2. Food hygiene. If you are serving food then someone must have a food hygiene certificate.

Toilets are pretty important but don’t get too concerned because one loo should be enough for 400 to 500 people as long as they don’t want to use it at the same time!

Finally, you must let your insurance company know that you are hosting the event and ensure that you have adequate public liability (£5 million) cover, but don’t worry, most insurers won’t charge an additional premium for this!

Have a great event!

About Jeremy

Jeremy runs the family farm in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. The farm is predominantly arable along with a beef and an equine business. The farm carries out lots of conservation work and all the land is in HLS and ELS. This is the 7th year that the farm has hosted Open Farm Sunday.

What we’re planning for Open Farm Sunday

Gail Anderson, Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria

In the sixth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Gail Anderson our Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria, discusses her plans for Open Farm Sunday.

My mantra for Open Farm Sunday is “The everyday to farmers is a fascinating day out to everyone else”. Just because you live on a farm and interact with it 7 days a week it doesn’t mean that the people coming to visit your farm have the slightest clue of what you do. With this in mind, the activities planned for Open Farm Sunday can be as simple or as creative as you want.

Tidy your farm up and let the public see a few pens of livestock, clean out your parlour and have the machines pumping water through them, or organise a farm walk or tractor and trailer ride. Something simple like showing an ear of corn, the corn in grain and then a selection of things which could be made from it, i.e. flour, bread, etc, can fascinate an audience.

Open Farm Sunday

Animals always add an attraction, but if you don’t have any of your own, then why not ask your neighbours to bring some of their animals or be on hand to answer questions about lambing, calving, and the like? Remember to adhere to the health and safety guidelines for livestock:

  • Have them in a newly bedded up area
  • Ensure there is no seepage or run-off from the livestock
  • Have someone supervise the area

If you let the public pet the animals make sure you have hand-washing facilities; or if you don’t want visitors to touch the animals,  try some lengths of drainage pipe to allow people to feed the animals, this will make them feel connected without the worry of any potential health concerns).

Hand washing facilities are paramount: simply have a running tap (hot or cold), liquid soap and paper towels, put up signs to encourage hand washing and have helpers to ensure visitors keep their hands clean. It’s that simple.

From personal experience it is great to rope in friends and family to not only help with the management of the day but also to add a bit of variety. Some friends, who work in the logging industry, come to give demonstration of horse drawn bracken rolling, we know people in the RSPB who are happy to have a stand and take people on guided walks, friends have small rural companies so they have a stall or two selling rural crafts. The tractor and trailer rides always go down a storm, as does a barbeque if you have your own produce – both of these things are firm favourites for our Open farm Sunday events.

Your local NFU or Young farmers may also be interested. It’s so much fun, especially when you have extra people mucking in. Promotion needn’t be a headache either; anything from a few posters in local shops or the odd sign dotted about, to getting in touch with local newspapers and radio and asking for some coverage. Make it as big or as small as you like!

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.

About Gail

Gail Anderson, Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria, lives with her parents on their 200 acre arable and livestock farm in County Durham. The family as a whole has found involvement in Open Farm Sunday very rewarding, and a wonderful way to inform the public about farming whilst also connecting with the local farming community and friends.

EVERY farm has something to shout about on Open Farm Sunday

Rebecca Dawes, Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator

In the fifth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Rebecca Dawes our Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator, discusses the ways in which all farms can get involved in Open Farm Sunday.

To many, what goes on behind the farm gate is a mystery, but Open Farm Sunday is every farmers chance to bridge the gap and be very proud of what they produce.  EVERY farm, regardless of size or type, has something to shout about on Open Farm Sunday. Writing this as both a host farmer of 8 years, and as the Scottish Open Farm Sunday Coordinator, I have had the privilege of attending events that welcomed a restricted 20 guests, to those who watched more than 200 visitors walk through their farm gates, right through to my last open day which was enjoyed by more than 2000 enthusiastic visitors. It is often said that as farmers, we forget that our daily activities are fascinating to the general public. For example, one host farmer only welcomes 30 guests, and they have to phone and pre-book. They join him in their wellies, coats and aprons fresh on the Sunday morning to help him check his sheep. They walk the farm with him, ask questions and take photographs – buzzing as they leave, their experience will undoubtedly be shared with friends and family.

Some farmers want to take it to the next stage, so they welcome 200 visitors. This time pre-booking is not required, the posters provided by Open Farm Sunday have only been distributed in the local community. The farm walks run every 30 minutes and on returning to the farm yard, his family are cooking burgers and bacon rolls that guests can buy for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Setup in pens away from his normal livestock is a dozen different breeds of sheep each with its own description sheet, and in the adjacent barn is a wall and information table full of material from the British Wool Marketing Board. Again the guests leave with a smile on their face because they have stepped through those farm gates that they pass daily.

"As farmers, we can forget that our daily activities are fascinating to the general public"

“As farmers, we can forget that our daily activities are fascinating to the general public”

Then there is the farmer who decided to go that step further, distributing posters and leaflets to the community and local school groups, putting an advert in the local newspaper, inviting the local radio to interview them, persuading some of the Open Farm Sunday sponsors to carry leaflets in their stores and putting up road signs that were supplied by Open Farm Sunday.  The local young farmers group along with scouts are showing cars to their parking place and using it as an opportunity to ask visitors for a small donation to charity.  The farm walks have been replaced by a tractor and trailer that is available every hour. The refreshments are now offered in a grass field with picnic seating and a couple of toilets have been hired. The wool information display is accompanied by the local spinners and weavers group who offer demonstrations and a chance to have a go. The local school is running an art and craft workshop using wool to make sheep out of toilet rolls. A neighbouring farmer is running sheep shearing demonstrations at various intervals throughout the day, the local animal feed company has come along to show what the animals eat and how much per year and a local butcher is running a sausage making demonstration with lamb.  Away from this a local business with a bouncy castle has been invited to take some space and charges children a minimal fee to enjoy it, the local church is coordinating a few trade stalls who have been charged to attend with the money going to the church roof fund, a local drama group is telling farmyard stories, a music group is singing a few songs while guests enjoy lunch and a large red fire engine is getting plenty of use by young boys and girls who want to pretend to be “Fire Man Sam”, although this has to be parked by an exit just in case it has an emergency. The local machinery company has donated a combine harvester, tractor and forklift – each vehicle has a poster with a pound sign and question mark on it. Visitors are asked in a mock auction to “bid” for the items to the value that they think it would actually have cost the farm, and finally a circle of bales is laid out ready for the farmer to return from his tractor and trailer tour to take centre stage at the “Farmer Question Time” before closing the event. This Open Farm Sunday event has been open for five hours, families have come and gone full of enthusiasm for the food and farming industry, and the only activity required by the farmer is driving his tractor and speaking to his guests.

Regardless of whether your enterprise is sheep, dairy, cattle, chicken, vegetables, fruits, crop or something else, there are plenty of individuals and businesses out there who will come along and support your event. This could be simply by providing materials, running an activity or taking a stand. The question to ask when organising an event is – what do I want to get out of this, if someone comes along what will they get out of it AND what lasting memory do you want visitors to have.

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.

About Rebecca

Rebecca Dawes and her family have been hosting Open Farm Sunday events since it began in 2006, initially welcoming 90 visitors and building the event to over 2000 visitors in 2012. Rebecca is the Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator and is also the Communications and Rural Affairs Manager, at the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.

The biggest soil management challenges this year

This week we will be launching the first issue of our new service, LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Bulletin. If you’re a LEAF member you will be getting this next week – keep your eyes on your inbox! The first issue is all about sustainable soil management, so we’re asking what you think will be the biggest challenge to your soil over the coming year. Please answer the poll below, we will be following this up in a future post.

SONY DSC Soil management is something of a hot topic for us at the moment, in our last blog post Alice Midmer, LEAF’s Projects Coordinator, wrote about our new sustainable soil management case studies, containing practical information on soil management practices and lots of soil data. You can download six sample case studies on our website here. A further 17 will be coming soon to LEAF members. For more details on LEAF membership click here.

New perspectives on sustainable soil management

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer joined the LEAF team last year to produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet. In this post, Alice tells us about her experience visiting some of our members’ farms across the UK.

Fresh from two terms of an Environmental Bioscience Masters at Warwick University, I went straight in to a more practical experience of environmental matters and food production, with a three month placement at LEAF. My task: To produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet.

The first task was to assemble a list of ‘Reference Farms’ from which to take detailed soil data and site-specific soil management information. The project was run in partnership with Asda and the reference farms consisted of both LEAF Demonstration Farmers, LEAF members and Asda farms. Next a (lengthy) questionnaire was produced to ensure sufficient data collection. With that, the only thing left to do was get out there!

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

New to agriculture, armed with my Mini and some reassuring words from the LEAF team, I was off.  During July, I was lucky enough to visit 23 farms during what turned out to be the hottest, sunniest, loveliest month in years – what a joy (and contrast to the current weather)! The farms were located in a total of sixteen counties but the many Mini miles on the motorway were made worthwhile by the beautiful parts of the country I was able to visit and the fascinating and knowledgeable farmers I had the pleasure to meet (and no, none of them paid me to say that).

In addition to collecting valuable and vast amounts of data, these visits also provided me with a fantastic insight into soil management and Integrated Farm Management. After just a couple of visits, the complexities, compromises and trade-offs farmers face on a daily basis became apparent. Through seeing first hand some of the sustainable soil management techniques deployed by many farmers, I started to understand the real meaning of IFM and what this means to farmers across the board. This further understanding has made me incredibly keen to contribute all I can to the industry in terms of a fresh perspective, analytical experience and communicating farmers’ messages to the wider public.

Lower HighfieldThe opportunity to visit over fifteen LEAF Demonstration Farms, working effectively and producing a more sustainable food source economically, was an incredibly good introduction to agriculture. In addition, LEAF Demonstration Farms encourage technical visits from a wide range of farmer groups and so if seeing different aspects of Integrated Farm Management in practice sounds like something that might benefit your business find your nearest LEAF Demonstration Farm here. Alternatively, I compiled a case study for each of the farms I visited. To get a sneak peek into the Integrated Farm Management ethos of some of the farms I visited and see how sustainable soil management works in different scenarios take a look here.

soilsThe case studies consist of a number of different soil, farm and enterprise types and six are available to download from the LEAF website here, a full set of 23 will be available to LEAF members soon.

Getting ready for Open Farm School Days

Tamara Hall

Tamara Hall, Molescroft Farms

In the fourth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Tamara Hall of Molescroft Farms Ltd. and Yorkshire and Humberside Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator, explains how she started out with Open Farm School Days and her top tips for school visits.

I first decided to have school visits on the Friday before Open Farm Sunday to make better use of the activities we had set up and to make full use of the farm being uber tidy! In addition, it would publicise our Open Farm Sunday event. One thing I thought at previous Open Farm Sunday’s, was that the children didn’t ask as many questions when they were with their parents and the parents were loath to look foolish by asking questions. Having the children visit us in ‘school mode’ on the Friday they could learn plenty and show off to their parents on the following Sunday, inadvertently teaching the parents!

Easy in theory, so in a fit of enthusiasm during April 2011 I sent hand-written invites to our eight local primary schools, along with detailed information packs and promises of help with transport costs. I waited excitedly for the pre-stamped reply postcard to flood back. A couple of weeks later I had only heard back from one of the schools who had visited several times before that they would like to come. I think a couple of others eventually sent back the postcards with the ‘No thanks, not this year’ box ticked. I then quickly emailed a number of schools over a larger area and soon had seven schools signed up, one bringing two classes. Once I had recovered from the feelings of rejection and annoyance at how much time I had spent lovingly writing the invites, I started trying to find out why there had been so little interest. Over the past three years I have worked out the following:

  1. Many schools arrange their visits in September for the academic year. They only have funding for a certain number of visits per year so they need to be organised. If you want to get a large number of schools you need to start inviting them in the autumn term.
  2. Some teachers aren’t interested in visiting a farm. You are best to invite more schools and get teachers who do genuinely want to bring their children as they will get more out of the visit and you will enjoy it more.
  3. Emails work well rather than post (cheaper and easier). Only a number will reach the right teacher but again, you need to send them to more schools. Keep it brief as the teachers won’t have time to read pages, just say what you will be delivering and say you would like to make an appointment with the head teacher to explain more about the visit. Follow this up with a phone call.

It will definitely help if you can fund their transport. I have heard that some parents won’t even pay £2 toward a school trip, which means the whole class can’t go. You only need to pay half of the costs, which should be £75-100 per coach. I have found Agricultural Societies quite helpful and Gleadells now help fund our visits, so also ask your business contacts. Ask face-to-face and ask early.

Once you have the schools signed up you need to keep them happy. The main thing they liked about our events is the organisation. They need timetables and maps of the farmyard if they’ll be self-guided between activities. As with Open Farm Sunday, signage is essential. I find this part is more important to the teachers than linking it with the curriculum – they will only visit if food and farming is relevant to what they are already planning to do in the classroom.

Rudolph Day 029The other response we have had is how interactive it needs to be. I started off only wanting 7-11 year olds, I prefer talking to the older ones as they’re so entertaining. However, schools like to bring 5-7 year olds since it fits well with what they are doing in the classroom. This age group needs more hands-on activities but all ages learn more by doing than by listening. We have now made our groups smaller with 15-20 children in each group. If you are funded for Educational Access through HLS these smaller groups still count as a full visit as long as you get a feedback form for each group.

We have eight activities areas around the main farm yard, each lasting for 20 minutes and so eight school groups visit each day. Our hands-on activities which also work for Open Farm Sunday include:

  • Candling eggs at various stages of incubation and handling day-old chicks. Our local incubator shop runs this but you could also ask another farmer to do this for you. This is very good for teaching life cycles, which all children study.
  • Planting potatoes. Get the children to help plant potatoes in buckets (in compost rather than soil) then harvest the previous groups potatoes which they planted. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t grown – you can explain what does happen. They will remember that potatoes grow under the soil.
  • Grinding wheat. You can buy cheap hand grain mills on eBay and the children love to grind a handful of wheat into flour. You can then get them to sieve it to show them where bran comes from. This helps connect the grain we grow with the food they eat at home.
  • Milk a cow. All the info you need to make a pretend cow for the children to milk is here on the FACE website 
  • Make a scarecrow. You can buy cheap disposable white overalls and ask local charity shops to save you some clothes that aren’t good enough to sell in return for a donation. Get the schools to bring the heads – balloons covered in papier-mâché is a good pre-visit activity. The children will love stuffing the overalls with straw and dressing them up. You can have a prize for the best scarecrow. Furthermore you can explain why you need to put bangers on the farm!

Whether you decide to invite one school or several, I’d recommend hosting school visits they are both rewarding and great fun!

Take part in LEAF’s Open Farm School Days 2nd to 13th June.  For more information contact LEAF:  024 7641 3911 or email

About Tamara

Tamara Hall runs Molescroft Farms Ltd, a family owned arable farm in East Yorkshire. Alongside the arable farm 10% of the land is in Higher Level Stewardship and she started a Community Allotment in 2012, with 70 plots let and with a waiting list of over 50. 

She started hosting Open Farm Sunday in 2007 with an invited group for a farm walk helped by the RSPB. In 2011, she ran an Open Farm Friday by inviting local schools to publicise their Open Farm Sunday. This evolved into Open Farm School Days with 1,000 visitors over the week in 2012. Tamara has been the Regional Coordinator for Yorkshire and Humberside for four years.

Visit the Open Farm Sunday Roadshow when it stops near you!

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

In the third of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, David Jones, Farm Manager at Morley Farms Ltd, invites you to the Open Farm Sunday Roadshow of Information Events. Subscribe to this blog to receive updates directly to your inbox!

To retain its competitive edge, a Formula 1 team would keep its innovations and designs under wraps until the last minute. But most farming businesses are somewhat different – after all, most of what we do is done outside. If I did find a new variety of golden beans, then it would be out growing in a field for all to see!  As commodity producers we are not in direct competition with each other, so we can open our gates and openly discuss what we do. This is the reason why I think Open Farm Sunday works so well.

Every year LEAF holds events for host farmers and this year, we’re going one step further with a new Roadshow of 24 events across Britain from Exeter to Inverness!  Each Information Event is not only for newcomers to Open Farm Sunday, but experienced hosts who want a refresher and gather new ideas and top tips including the all-important health and safety.

Wherever you manage to catch the Roadshow, I’m sure you will be inspired.  All events follow the same format, however there is the flexibility to address specific concerns and embrace the experience of people in the room, sharing ideas and solutions to common problems.

At one event I ran last year, a farmer in Essex was worried that they had a small farm down a narrow lane and lived near a large population of people. What if thousands of people turned up and what if it rained? The advice was maybe having a ‘ticket only’ event with a restricted number of people. Or limiting promotion of the event by giving quantities of event flyers to local primary schools to put in their book bags.  Or just go for it and have lots of friends and neighbours on standby to help if required on the day. As for parking, maybe they could borrow part of a neighbour’s field.

Open Farm Sunday Information Event

Open Farm Sunday Information Event

Many of the questions revolve around health and safety. The first step is to apply some common sense. Look around the farm for anything that is sharp/pointy/oily/dirty/greasy/slippery. Protect from visitors by cleaning, covering or removing it from the site, but best of all simply keep it behind a barrier or fence.

One of the most critical things is to prevent animal faeces coming in contact with people, particularly children under 5 years. If you want some bedtime reading the ‘Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions – Industry Code of Practice‘ gives some up to date information.  And join the Roadshow when it stops at a town near you for all the latest information.

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.

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.