Farmers Weekly Awards finalist takes part in Open Farm Sunday

A farming business that’s recently moved to Scotland is looking forward to an Open Farm Sunday event that will involve its new local community and benefit the entire industry.

When Colin Dawes (pictured) opens his farm to the public for Open Farm Sunday on 8 June this year, it won’t be for the first time – he is something of a dab hand, having hosted events for up to 3,500 visitors. But it will be the first time he has opened his farm since he moved the entire business 400 miles north from Foxbury Farm, near Burford in Oxfordshire, to Kinross, near Perth in Scotland.

“If we want people to buy British, they need to see where their food’s coming from,” he said. “I’m convinced more people would buy home-grown produce if they could visit their local farm, and Open Farm Sunday is the perfect opportunity.”

See also Register for Open Farm Sunday

A former Farmers Weekly Local Food Farmer of the Year runner-up, Foxbury Farm prided itself on its beef, lamb and pork, reared to Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) Marque standards and sold through the farm shop and butchery to visitors.

The family business took a new direction when the farm was sold in 2012 and moved to Hilton of Aldie, a mixed farm with 147ha, including 36ha under environmental schemes.

Take part in OFS 2014

    On 8 June 2014, more than 350 farms across the UK are set to open their gates to around 200,000 visitors.

    Organised by LEAF, Open Farm Sunday is sponsored by Asda, The Co-operative, M&S, Tesco, Waitrose, AHDB, BASF, Country Life, DEFRA, Farmers Weekly, Frontier, John Deere, Kellogg’s, LEAF Marque, NFU, Syngenta and Hellmann’s.

There is no farm shop, although meat is sold locally, and Mr Dawes noted there is a real community feel, which he believed Open Farm Sunday would bring to the fore. “There’s less rushing around in Kinross – people are always happy to stop and chat, and they take a proper interest in what’s going on at the farm.”

To promote his event, Mr Dawes wrote to a number of local organisations. “There’s a lot of positive interest – the Kinross community is very much involved in the event, organising stalls, running activities and co-ordinating a farmer’s market for the day.”

Visitors will also get to meet the farm’s beef herd of 40 Lincoln Red crosses, brought up from Oxfordshire, plus there will be sheep shearing and sheepdog trials with the farm’s resident 300-strong Mule flock that’s run alongside the North Country Cheviots and Romney ewes they have purchased since the move.

A farm walk will take people round some of the farm’s environmental highlights, which will be labelled so visitors can learn about what they see.

“What we’ve realised over the years is that people just love to come to a farm and experience the day-to-day goings on. As a host, it’s important you enjoy the day and don’t push yourself – decide whether you want to aim for 50 or 500 visitors and give them a feel for what they see on the farm. You don’t have to tell them everything, but they’re fascinated by the basics, so make sure you have enough time to talk with your visitors,” said Mr Dawes.

Previously, Open Farm Sunday events had been a direct benefit for the business, driving extra custom through the shop. But this year, Mr Dawes has a wider aim. “As a family we are very passionate about food and farming education, and this day is an ideal opportunity to thank the general public for supporting us by welcoming them through the farm gates. If done right, an event should be fun for all involved.

“And it’s simple, effective and good marketing for farming. The public wants to know more, so we should encourage it, and get more people on to farms – they need to know what’s going on and how their food is produced.”

Open Farm Sunday: Tips for beef and sheep farmers

  • Register your event: Go to the Open Farm Sunday website, where you can publicise your open day and pick up tips and resources, all provided free
  • Plan properly: Make sure you have plenty of people to help and supervise the animals
  • Engaging activities: Think about what you would like people to see and do; it does not have to be spectacular – often routine farming chores draw the most interest
  • Make it safe: Your farm does not have to be spotless, but you should provide handwashing facilities and make sure walk-through areas aren’t mucky
  • Tell your story: You do not have to explain growth rates, but give visitors an insight into your farm and why you enjoy farming, and make the connection between what they see on the supermarket shelf and what you produce
  • Enjoy the day: It can be immensely rewarding for all involved, and a great opportunity to celebrate British farming and food

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