If you’ve never hosted an Open Farm Sunday event before, don’t be discouraged from giving it a go. That’s the advice of Lisa and Simon Edwards, who opened the gates for the first time last year on their farm at Lydiate near Liverpool.
The couple had been considering taking part in farming’s “national open day” for a while but, as a 365ha all-arable operation, figured they might not have that much of interest to show the public.
“With a bit of encouragement from our sons, we decided to give it a go,” says Lisa. “We were amazed at how fascinated people were by the machinery and crops. They loved seeing it.”
Keeping the day simple
As first-timers, the couple kept it “small, structured and simple” – welcoming the 35 visitors at 9.30am, then giving them a guided tour on foot.
“We organised it this way to keep the afternoon free, which was just as well because we were still playing catch-up after last year’s wet spring.
“Visitors were full of questions about how we grow and harvest crops, who we sell them to and what all the buildings are for.
“They were also fascinated by the technology. A lot of people don’t realise how high-tech farming is. When you’re involved with day in, day out, it’s easy to forget how interesting it can be to other people.”
Winning hearts and minds
The Edwards, who are tenants at Gore House Farm just nine miles from the centre of Liverpool, are in many ways on the “front line” of the battle to win public hearts and minds.
“The urban population has lost its connection with the land, with the seasons and with food,” says Lisa. “It’s important we help them get that connection back.
“Everybody is ultimately farming’s customer and, as a business, we need to maintain that contact with our customers. Open Farm Sunday is a chance to correct any myths they have about farming, but also for us to get a sense of their views and what matters to them.”
The event was straightforward to organise, she says. “We made sure any doors were locked that needed to be, taped off any potentially dangerous areas and explained the importance of not going near ditches, then just kept everyone together and herded them round with us.
“We really enjoyed it. We plan to do it again this year and I’d urge other people to give it a go. You can always start small in your first year then do more if you want to in subsequent years.”
The Edwards also served drinks and cakes on the day, raising £200 for the local hospice. A friend, who works at the local RSPB reserve, was also on hand to point out some of the many birds which prosper on the farm.
“A hare even made an appearance!”
- Takes place on 9 June, 2019
- Hundreds of farms across the country open their gates
- Set up in 2006 and managed by Leaf (Linking Environment And Farming)
- Advice for first-timers – and details of how to register and free advice for host farmers – is available at www.farmsunday.org
What suits your farm best?
According to Leaf (Linking Environment and Farming), which co-ordinates OFS, among those taking part in 2018, 88 farmers were hosting their first event – and they’re expecting this number to increase in 2019.
“OFS is completely flexible so that all farmers can get involved – whether you host a private or a public event, a farm walk or a full open day,” says a Leaf spokesperson.
“It’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable organising, what you would like to share with the public – it’s whatever suits you and your farm.
“You can keep it as small and simple as you want. Remember, a small farm walk is just as important as a larger event.”
Reconnecting with the public
Another 2018 newbie was Chris Molyneux of Molyneux Kale, south-west Lancashire growers of a range of specialist kales, brassicas and other crops.
“I was keen to do my little bit to help farming reconnect with the public and the consumer – plus was encouraged by a PhD student who’s doing research here,” he says.
About 30 people attended, including a group of kids, who particularly enjoyed worm-spotting in the little pit Chris dug to help explain about soil and crop rooting. “They loved looking for worms – it was like a mini-science experiment.
“The event was an eye-opener for me as well as for the visitors – I’m really glad we did it and will definitely do it again this year.”