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:
Consider 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.
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.
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.