“What people do not understand, they do not value; what they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” — Charles Jordan
Engaging the public with food and farming is one of the key building blocks of sustainable farming. It’s why we have organised Open Farm Sunday for the last 8 years. Over 365 farms all over the UK opened their gates for this year’s Open Farm Sunday (9th June) and initial estimates indicate that they welcomed over 200, 000 people. We’re overwhelmed each year by the number of visitors that experience farming on this one day, and it’s all down to the farmers who take part – well done to all of them!
The public’s appetite for supporting British farmers and eating home grown food has never been higher. A recent survey carried out by grocery think-tank, IGD, shows that shoppers are nearly 150% more likely to buy British food than they were six years ago, with younger shoppers and families driving this growth. From the number of people getting out onto farms last Sunday, it seems they not only want to buy British, they want to learn more about how it’s grown.
Enriching visits to farms have a huge role to play in contributing to our understanding of food, how it’s produced and its links with nature. Farm visits demand our engagement and reflection. They are a valuable trigger for wider thinking about sustainable farming, healthy food choices and our place in the natural world, and it seems they are becoming ever more popular. Just ahead of Open Farm Sunday, Asda surveyed over a thousand of its shoppers. 43% said that it was important to visit farms to support British farmers, with many preferring to visit a farm than outings to zoos, safari parks, funfairs and even theme parks. This interest in food provenance is a really encouraging trend. The challenge now is to turn this interest into action. If, after their Open Farm Sunday visit, just a few people start to change their buying patterns to more sustainably produced food, then it will have done its job.
Tractor trailer rides at Waddesdon
School children check out the pigs
Tractor trailer rides at Newbottle Estate
Tractor trailer rides at Waddesdon
Farm walks at The Grange
Excited at Tiptree, Essex
Youngster with a chick
It’s not only the public who are keen to reach out to farmers. It’s working the other way too, with many farmers using social media tools to connect with their customers. In a small survey of our LEAF members, three quarters of farmers said the web had helped them get closer to their customers and many now use Twitter and Facebook as their main means of communication.
So, what does the record number of people visiting farms last Sunday tell us? It tells us that more and more people are interested in their food, they want to learn more about how it’s grown, talk to the farmers out in the field, discover more about the wonderful countryside around them and enjoy the space and freedom that it offers. In essence, they want to engage.
Our job at LEAF is to harness this enthusiasm. To inspire people to go on being interested throughout the year, not just on Open Farm Sunday. To question where their food comes from, how it’s been grown and to turn this knowledge into meaningful behavioural change. To deepen understanding of where food comes from and how farming contributes to the landscape around us. We don’t just want to see them making healthy food choices, we want to see sustainable food choices.
The Open Farm Sunday photography competition is in full swing and we’ve received more entries than ever before already – you can enter here. Head over to the Open Farm Sunday Pinterest board to see a whole host of images we collected over the last few weeks.
Finally, next year’s Open Farm Sunday will take place on the 8th June 2014 so put the date in your diary now!