With this year’s national Open Farm Sunday event on 1 June getting near, Roly Puzey from organiser LEAF explains how you go about getting publicity for your farm open day

Why do I need to publicise my farm open day? Surely LEAF will be doing that?

LEAF will certainly be getting publicity for Open Farm Sunday on a national basis. Chiefly that involves talking to national newspapers, magazines and broadcasters to get the message across to the public about what Open Farm Sunday is and why they should visit a farm.

But the best way of publicising individual farm event is for farmers to do it themselves.

I only want to get a few locals. Do I need to do anything in the way of publicity?

Maybe not, but you still need to think about who you are aiming the event at and how you will attract them. There are lots of different types of farm events you can run, some of them pretty modest and low-key

Here are some examples:

The closed-group event

This is a small event for a known group of people. They could simply be a group that you have contact with or a local interest group like the Ramblers, the Campaign to Protect of Rural England, or the RSPB.

Or why not contact the local vicar? Suggest that instead of the Sunday church service being held in the church, it is held in one of your barns, followed by short farm walk (1 hour) and a bring-your-own picnic lunch.

Arable farmer John Plumb, who farms at Coleshill near Birmingham, did just that last year. After the farm walk, tea was served in what is usually a hay, straw and machinery barn. Then there was a simple church service which 50 or 60 people attended. Such was the success of it in 2007 that this year he plans to involve other local churches.

The village event

Typically, this would be a guided farm walk (2 hours maximum) for your neighbours either before or after Sunday lunch. You can use the free Open Farm Sunday postcards and A5 flyers to invite your friends, family and neighbours by putting one through each household letter box. You can also personalise the Open Farm Sunday A4 posters and put them up in the village shop or post office.

In both of the above cases you don’t need to have your farm on the list on the LEAF website of farms that are open to the public generally. You’ll then know exactly how many people will come, and it’s a great way to test the water if you’re an Open Farm Sunday novice.

The open event

This is a larger event, typically starting at 11am with hourly farm guided tours running until 3pm. Other activities could include a nature trail, tractor and trailer rides, pond dipping, a mini farmers’ market and picnics and activities for children.

The key thing here is to get as many people to help you as possible, whether it’s friends, family, neighbouring farmers, your vet, agronomist, machinery salesman or feed rep. Better still if you have a local bird, butterfly or wildflower expert, get them along, too.

Can LEAF help me with the publicity?

Yes. There are Open Farm Sunday postcards and A5 flyers, A4 posters, roadside notice boards and draft press releases. All are provided free to OFS host farmers.

• Posters Write your own farm name and brief details and put them up in local shops, libraries and supermarkets (with permission, of course).

• Flyers Put these up in local shops or hand out to neighbours, local schools, clubs and societies. One side has general information about Open Farm Sunday and how to find a farm to visit, the other side is blank so you can personalise it with details about your event.

• Postcards These can either be used to invite your friends, family and neighbours or given to visitors on the big day.

• Roadside boards These are designed to be put up next to busy roads or outside the farm entrance two or three weeks before the big day. There are three different boards, which you place at suitable distances apart so people can read them as they drive past. Remember to remove them as soon as the event has finished.

• Roadside arrows These are smaller signs which you produce an arrow from by cutting the appropriate side with a pair of scissors or Stanley knife. They don’t need to be put up until the day and you can keep them for next year.

• Open Farm Sunday website Each event will be listed on the website (unless you request otherwise), so it’s one of the key ways for the public to know about your farm event. LEAF’s role here is to organise national and regional publicity by working with the media to encourage the public to visit www.farmsunday.org to find their closest farm.

As a host farmer, you need to provide potential visitors with as much information as possible. The more you can tell them about the great things you have on offer (Sit on a big tractor! See cows being milked! Try your hand at pond dipping!) the more likely you will attract visitors.

Is word of mouth effective?

Yes, it’s a great way to promote your Open Farm Sunday event. Talk to your local schools, ask if you can speak about farming and OFS at an assembly. You can also give children the postcards or flyers to take home and attract the whole family. (see Jeremy Padfield case study.)

You can even get schoolchildren to work on projects about the farm. They can then demonstrate those on Open Farm Sunday, thereby playing a role in informing visitors about the farm and the food it produces.

I have never had much to do with the local paper. How do I get them interested in my event?

Local papers are usually interested in anything to do with farming and the countryside. The combination of food, animals, wildlife and big machinery (all of it pretty photogenic) gives it a strong draw.

The first thing is to find the contact details of local newspapers inside their front covers. Alternatively, the following websites should list all the papers covering their area: www.wrx.zen.co.uk/alltnews.htm or www.newspapersoc.org.uk.

What sort of thing will they be interested in?

A short, factual email message is a good way to attract a journalist’s attention (individual writers’ email addresses are often listed at the ends of stories). And a really eye-catching photo of the host farmer and his or her farm is even better. A template for a press release can be found on the website www.farmsunday.org.

Be sure the event/story stands out from the rest. It needs a “hook” to catch an editor’s eye. If photos include children, remember to get permission from their parent or guardian

Remember to provide the basic details. What is Open Farm Sunday? Why are you doing it? Where is it happening? When is it happening? Who is involved?

The same basics apply if you get asked to do a local radio interview. Keep your answers short and simple, and try to talk in pictures that illustrate what you are saying

Case study

Jeremy Padfield, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset

Padfield1

Jeremy Padfield had 500 visitors to his Open Farm Sunday event in 2006 and an astonishing 1700 in 2007, and he puts much of that increase down to good publicity.

A week before the 2006 Open Farm Sunday event he took a tractor and drill into his children’s primary school 10 minutes before the children were due to go home. There was massive interest from parents and children alike and he followed through by getting the school office to put a LEAF Open Farm Sunday postcard inside every child’s school bag.

In 2007 he expanded the scheme by taking a tractor and implement into five schools, this time doing so an hour before the end of school to give everyone more time to see the machinery. He also did an assembly, explaining the basics of food and farming to a fascinated audience of 6-8 year olds.

He and other local farmers have also built up a good rapport with the local paper, which has agreed to run a piece about Open Farm Sunday a week before the event.

Padfield2

In fact he and 11 other farmers, plus a vet and an auctioneer, have combined forces to write a weekly Farmers’ Notebook for the Somerset Guardian. This covers farming and countryside matters and is proving so popular that other local papers are thinking of running it.

Other publicity includes using LEAF’s roadside boards, putting a piece on OFS in the parish magazine and putting the LEAF posters in the post office and local convenience store. He also puts banners on a silage trailer at the side of the A-road.

So how many visitors does he expect to get in 2008? “We’d like somewhere between 1000 and 1500. We can cope with 1500 visitors, but only because we had 15 farmers and other friends helping us last year.”

Want to be a host farmer or lend a hand to another farmer running an event? Contact organiser LEAF on 024 7641 3911 or click on www.farmsunday.org. LEAF is also running free half-day workshops for those interesting in becoming host farmers. Details are on the website.