Open Farm Sunday is one of agriculture’s biggest success stories, thanks to around 400 host farmers who put on a unique array of events. Organised by Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF), it achieves a step change in how the public perceives farming – they discover something new about how their food is produced and how the countryside is cared for.
Key to this success is a growing army of volunteers – in 2010 about 6,000 vets, agronomists, seed reps, sales managers and others from across the industry and rural communities helped out at events.
Many farmers who want to take part, but do not wish to open their own farms, help out at neighbouring events, providing animals, machinery or just an extra pair of hands. Those who are hosting events are strongly encouraged to register at www.farmsunday.org, if they have not already, to qualify for a free resource pack, information and advice.
And it is the planning that is the essential ingredient for success. This will already be under way on most farms, especially if a large number of visitors is expected. So LEAF and Farmers Weekly have pulled out core elements to focus on:
Events range from a small farm walk for 20 up to a full fun-packed family day of activities for thousands. LEAF works with a PR company, Ceres, to generate interest nationally and drive people to the Open Farm Sunday website and the find-a-farm feature. But there’s much you can do to ensure the right number of people come to your event.
Small, invitation-only farm walk
Use the postcards in the resource pack as invitations – you can personalise them by putting them through your printer or adding printed stickers. There may be key people in the village you wish to invite, so consider phoning them individually. Do not forget to tick the box in your website entry if you’d prefer to keep your event hidden.
Try and make sure your guests leave your farm with a lasting memory of their visit.
Distribute plenty of postcards and flyers – you may like to ask a local printer to overprint them with details of your event. Work with your local schools and ask if copies can be put into each child’s schoolbag to take home. Personalise the A4 posters and put them in local shops, village noticeboards and on the footpaths around your farm. Use the gate banner on a prominent local road.
Large, fun-packed field day
Put out plenty of banners near major roads and harness the power of the media. Farming makes a great story, so get in touch with your local paper or radio station. Think about what angle would attract journalists and supply good quality photos. Use the generic press release, downloadable from www.farmsunday.org, to spark initial interest.
Once you have your visitors on the farm, aim for them to go away with “sticky knowledge” – a memento or memory of the day that will stay with them – and think about what that lasting memory will be. Farming activities may be everyday to you, but are fascinating to your visitors, if presented in the right way. There are some key points:
• Make the connection – start with what they see on the supermarket shelf and work back to what they see on the farm. So use a loaf of bread, for example, a bucket of wheat and some wheat plants to illustrate the story.
• Make it interactive – think about how you can engage all the senses. Invite them to taste your produce, feel a fleece, smell freshly cut silage, listen to the birds.
• Make it personal – keep it relevant to your farm and include personal details. This makes it far more memorable.
So the sort of activities you may consider could include:
Consider games and activities for your visitors.
• Static displays – use posters and props to illustrate the story. Label up machines with fascinating facts or how much they cost. Run a DIY nature trail with a quiz.
• Demonstrations – sheep-shearing, pregnancy diagnosis, bale-wrapping or herding the flock all go down a storm.
• Games and activities – pond-dipping, bug-hotel building, make a scarecrow, sheep-racing and even the vegetable olympics have featured at events.
• Farm tours – whether tractor and trailer or on foot, time it beforehand and plan what to do or say at set points on the route.
There are more ideas in the resource pack and on the website.
Safe and sound
Health and Safety is important, but should not overshadow your day. Inform your insurer and carry out a risk assessment – LEAF has worked with HSE to produce a new assessment specific to farm visits and open days.
Get a friend or neighbour over as a fresh pair of eyes will help you identify any hazards and minimise the risk that these may cause a problem. Put signs at entrances to flag up potential hazards to your visitors, such as a pond. Tidy away tripping hazards, take keys out of tractors, lay flat ladders and dual wheels, and prevent access to workshops and spray stores.
Make sure to take precautions if allowing guests to pet animals – like providing hand-washing facilities with water and soap.
Stroking or petting a farm animal is a great and rewarding experience, especially for a child. But you must take precautions to prevent infection with E coli O157 and other infectious diseases:
• Provide hand-washing facilities with running water, liquid soap and paper towels. The water should be warm, but if you only have cold, you should consider how to encourage hand-washing. Anti-bacterial gels and wipes are not adequate.
• Segregate animal-contact areas and eating areas, locating hand-washing facilities in between.
• Put up plenty of hand-washing signs in the animal contact areas and ensure there are trained staff or helpers to supervise.
• Remind visitors to wash their hands and look out for people eating food near animals.
Try and keep it positive and personal.
Think about how your visitors may pick up muck – no one expects your farm to be spotless, but try to keep them away from the muckiest areas, clean gates and partitions they will come into contact with and put down fresh bedding. It not only makes it safer but also creates a good impression.
More Health and Safety guidance, including the risk assessment and essential HSE information sheets, are included in the host farmer handbook in the resource pack.
Getting the message across
You do not have to make a presentation to your visitors but be prepared to answer questions. Open Farm Sunday visitors tend to be genuinely interested in everyday activity on a farm. No one knows as much about your farm as you do, and few can probably convey its wonders with as much passion. So you have a real opportunity to get a good message across.
• Keep out the jargon – drill, steer and headland mean something different. Livestock are animals, herbicides are weedkillers and an acre is about half the size of a football pitch.
• Keep it positive – try to turn a negative question into a positive. And this is not an opportunity to climb on your soap box and berate the use of Chinese lanterns.
• Keep it personal – do not feel you have to answer for the industry. Tell them what you do, and the things you enjoy and love about your crops and animals.