Leaf Open Farm Sunday (LOFS) organisers are calling on more farmers to “take 30” and stage a small, socially distanced and carefully managed farm walk this year as the nation eases out of lockdown.
Smaller events are set to be particularly popular when the “annual celebration of agriculture” takes place on 27 June, as they provide an ideal, Covid-safe way to bring people onto the farm.
Many hosts are putting the emphasis on farm walks and self-guided trails, replacing tractor-and-trailer rides with on-foot wildlife or cereal safaris.
LOFS is set to generate strong interest among the public, as many people have a heightened appetite for visiting the countryside and with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of some shows and events.
Combine this with the public’s increased appreciation for the food they eat and an interest in the environment, and this year presents a unique opportunity.
“This is the year to host,” says LOFS ambassador Helen Chappell of Ridgeway Farm, Blackpool, Lancashire.
“The public is keen to connect with farms and the environment more than ever. There is a renewed respect for food security and rural places accentuated by a global pandemic, and they want to learn not just about farming life, but also about the health and wellbeing benefits agriculture brings.
“Farming has taken a well-documented bashing from governments and the media of late – and bringing people on farm is a real chance to shift this perception.
“If farmers across the country took just 30 people on a walk around the farm for an hour to see farming first hand and to better understand what we do and why we do it, we’d have thousands more advocates.
“Small events have huge impact as visitors can have greater dialogue with the farmer, and the more people we can offer this experience, the more they will be informed and will become our ambassadors in the pub, classroom and around the kitchen table.
“It’s also an opportunity to encourage visitors to the countryside to act responsibly when they are out and about this summer,” says Helen.
At Hillhead of Ardo, near Ellon, a self-guided walk will end at a vintage machinery display.
Meanwhile, Molly Biddell and her family at Hampton Estate Farms, Surrey, have created a woodland walk with a scavenger hunt to learn about and identify different trees.
At the end of the trail, visitors plant a tree to create a woodland, with the forestry manager on hand to answer questions.
For farmers considering taking part for the first time, hosting a small event is also the ideal way to give it a go, according to the organisers.
A free LOFS ticketing service is available to help hosts limit visitor numbers, create time slots for entry to avoid overcrowding, help to maintain social distancing, and track and trace.
“You can test the water without too much commitment,” points out Helen. “Keep it as simple as inviting the families of the local scout group, school or rugby club to come for a farm walk.
“What’s important is to think about your set up, do it your way and enjoy having the chance to chat about what you love best – farming! If you’re having a good time, so will your visitors.”
Share your story
Hosting is about communicating the favourite parts of your farming story in a way that’s accessible, interactive and fun for visitors, she adds.
“Whether it’s a farm walk, nature trail or demonstrations, give visitors a chance to get involved. Encourage questions and engage the senses – listen to birds, smell the soil, plant seeds, touch a fleece or sift grain.
“Involve your vet, beekeeper, agronomist, feed merchant or machinery dealer, to give visitors a wider understanding of the farming industry. Visitors find everyday farming activities fascinating.”
Popular activities include digging up buried (cotton) underpants to illustrate soil health, ear-tagging paper sheep, building a scarecrow, mixing cattle ‘cake’, replicating a livestock or machinery auction, seeing technology in action and tasting a freshly cooked burger.
The questions from visitors in recent years at farming’s “national open day” show the appetite to know and understand more – from the basics of farming to sustainability and precision technology. One in five visitors have not been on a farm before, and 87% go away with a more positive view.
Jamie McCoy, LOFS ambassador for Wales, says: “What is so special about the day is knowing that you and your farm are part of a big UK-wide event which is having such a positive impact.”
Founder Ian Pigott says: “Most of the population is now five generations removed from farming.
“Opening farm gates of all sectors and hectarages is a chance to show that we are not all either simple country bumpkins chewing on straw or destroyers of the planet – but progressive businesspeople, land managers and innovators who use 21st-century science, precision technology and the principles of environmental sustainability to grow more food on less land than ever before.
“This makes it plentiful and affordable, and maintains the countryside they enjoy.
“We are fully integrated in consumer life and our land and our livestock matter, way beyond the farm gate,” says Ian.
“By hearing the facts directly and openly from us, we can create informed consumers who have a healthy understanding of agricultural realities and support British agriculture.”
Register your event on the Open Farm Sunday website and order your free resources. You will receive a host farmer handbook that provides top tips and templates to prepare for your event.