The need for farmers to get the public firmly on their side has never been more critical – and Open Farm Sunday (OFS) provides an ideal platform to do just this.

Government plans for a hard Brexit and the prospect of a new UK food, farming and environment policy will require farmers to demonstrate they are farming responsibly.

Run by Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf), OFS is an excellent way to raise public awareness, build trust, and shine a light on what farmers deliver and why supporting British farming really matters.

Opening your farm to the public doesn’t have to be daunting – there is help and support on hand from the team at Leaf.

The project’s manager, Annabel Shackleton, sets out why farmers need to open their farms, dispels some of the myths about reaching out to the public and answers some frequently asked questions.

See also: Webinars to give advice for Open Farm Sunday 2017

Is OFS really worth it?

Yes. The feedback received at Leaf is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, 88% of visitors reported learning something new during their visit.

In our follow-up survey, 91% of visitors said it had made them appreciate more the work farmers do; 89% said they feel more connected with the farmers who produce our food; 84% said it had changed the way they think about farming; 73% said they now actively look for British produce to buy.

At a time when we are facing many uncertainties, it is vital that farmers engage with the public – the customers.

I don’t have the time to organise an event

If time is an issue, host a simple farm walk for neighbours – this way you are taking part in OFS, but with minimal impact to your farming business.

Large, open events will take careful planning and collaboration is key – team up with neighbouring farmers and involve your suppliers, machinery dealer, agronomist, vet and local groups such as the Scouts and the WI.

How does it benefit me?

OFS positively promotes your industry and your business. And the “buzz” that farmers get from sharing their farm with visitors is fantastic. Bringing the local community together on a farm to showcase everything you do is so rewarding.

It’s a great team-building exercise – and for farms with a shop or diversification, it’s a great promotional opportunity, too.

But I wouldn’t know where to start…

The OFS host farmer handbook can help you decide on the size and type of event to organise, plus there is a host of information and guidance on promotion, activities, health and safety, and a handy checklist to guide you through the process.

There isn’t anything of interest on my farm

Every farm has something to show. Visitors are amazed at the everyday activities you do. You can talk about the crops you grow, the people involved, machinery, wildlife, soil and water management – every farm has a story to tell and visitors will be fascinated.

I don’t want hundreds of strangers on my land…

You can choose to host a private, invitation-only event if you want to limit the number of visitors or opt to host an open event. It is up to you what size and type of event to host. Some farmers ask visitors to pre-book so you can manage numbers.

How will I know how many visitors to expect?

With more than 10 years’ experience, Leaf can advise you on different communication techniques to use. When registering, you can opt to “hide” your event on the OFS website to limit your visitors.

What help and support is there?

Lots. Register your OFS event at www.farmsunday.org then you will receive free support from Leaf, including a copy of the detailed Host Farmer Handbook. Leaf and OFS sponsors offer a huge variety of free resources – including posters, flyers, gate banners, stickers and hand-outs for visitors.  

The programme of free OFS bite-size webinars gives lots of ideas and tips to help you prepare for your event.

On 31 January, there will be a webinar solely for farmers thinking about opening for the first time.

The team of OFS regional co-ordinators and Leaf staff are available to answer questions by phone and email. Plus, we have a closed Facebook group where you can consult with experienced host farmers.

It’s not needed as our farm is in a very rural area

You’ll be amazed how many people who live in rural areas don’t have a clue about farming. Many have no idea where their food comes from, let alone about the technology, science and skills involved modern farming.

What about the cost?

It all depends on the type of event. A farm walk will have minimal costs, but a large, open event will incur some costs such as hiring a couple of toilets and setting up low-cost handwashing facilities.

We envisage OFS events to be free to enter, but farmers may charge for some activities, such as tractor-and-trailer rides. Putting on refreshments will generate income to help cover costs.

What about the health and safety requirements?

Health and safety is obviously very important, but it should not be a deterrent to opening up and shouldn’t overshadow the day.

Leaf provides practical information, including a template risk assessment, to guide you so that you and your visitors have a safe and enjoyable day.

Farmers generally find OFS a welcome focus to tidy and clean up the farmyard.

If you have livestock, you will need handwashing facilities – many farmers set up low-cost temporary handwashing systems – see the handbook and Industry Code of Practice for details.

It’s June – what happens if it rains?

Don’t let the possibility of bad weather put you off. Think about what aspects of your visit could take place indoors or under cover. The key thing is to make it clear to your visitors on your event promotion what will be available in the event of bad weather (then keep your fingers crossed for sunshine!)

Isn’t Open Farm Sunday just for Leaf farmers?

OFS is for every farmer; you don’t have to be a Leaf member to take part. The theme this year is “Discover the World of Farming” and that means we want as many different types of farm to open as possible. OFS is about showcasing all aspects of farming.

Join us on 11 June and be proud to showcase the fantastic work you do. For more details and to sign up, visit www.farmsunday.org – the earlier you sign up, the more time you have to plan.