6 September 2002

Quality is first at open farm

ANYONE considering opening their farm to the public should remember visitors have increasingly high standards, Cheshire farmer John Walton has warned.

Stockley Farm, situated on the Arley Hall estate in north Cheshire, was one of the first in the region to open its doors to the public 14 years ago. It now attracts around 55,000 visitors during its six months opening each year.

"When we first opened it was very novel. Now theres so much more competition so to succeed youve got to be constantly re-assessing the product youre offering and be aware that the public demands increasingly high standards.

"We have a young family ourselves so keep a sharp eye open for anything that we feel makes our life easier on a day out and try to incorporate similar standards at the open farm.

"If the children are happy so are the parents and they are the ones who are paying."

Stockley Farm is a milk and arable holding of 179 ha (430 acres) and milking 160 Holstein cows. The farm gained organic status in May 2001 and has just featured in the awards for countys best organic farms. &#42

In addition to the open farm John Walton and his wife Jill also come face to face with the public through their successful organic "box" scheme which makes weekly deliveries of vegetables – including home-grown potatoes – to homes within a 20-mile radius.

"As an industry we need to be more open. We are always surprised at how little people still dont understand about farming. Even the difference between organic and conventional farming practice is not fully appreciated," says Mr Walton.

Stockley Farm hosts junior and secondary school visits and for national curriculum secondary school pupils Mr Walton is prepared to spend a considerable amount of time explaining farming operations on a tour of the holding.

"We have a large number of staff working on the open farm ensuring that all visitors questions and inquiries are dealt with. &#42

Open for business… John Walton has been welcoming the paying public on his farm for 14 years.