Tips for would-be first-time Open Farm Sunday participants

April is the month when many farmers traditionally sign up to take part in Open Farm Sunday (OFS), which this year takes place on 5 June.

Although putting on an event may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. 

OFS manager Annabel Shackleton shares some of the reasons farmers give for not taking part and explains why they shouldn’t stop you from getting involved.

See also: Leaf launches Open Farm Sunday 2016 campaign

Do we really want to take a step into the unknown?

To date, more than 1.6m people have visited farms as part of OFS and, every year, about 100 farmers host an event for the first time.

The Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) team always receive really positive feedback from them afterwards.

They might be tired, exhausted even, but the satisfaction they get from holding an event more than outweighs this.

It’s a great opportunity to share your enthusiasm for the job you love, whatever type or size of farm you have.

The key is to plan something that is manageable for you and your farm.

You don’t have to put on a huge event for hundreds of people.

Do what you feel most comfortable with: if it’s your first time, you can just put on a small, “invitation only” farm walk for friends, family and neighbours.

There is lots of free support from Leaf to help  – there are also regional co-ordinators to support you at a local level and the Leaf team are always at the end of a phone.

Children riding toy tractors on a farm

© Andrew Drysdale/REX/Shutterstock

Don’t events like this take time, money and effort?

Of course, they will take time and effort and can incur costs.

But the amount of time and money you spend is really up to you so costs can be kept to a minimum. 

One of the things that makes OFS such a success is collaboration – team up with neighbouring farmers and involve your suppliers, machinery dealer, agronomist, vet, conservation adviser or local groups such as scouts, the Women’s Institute or conservation organisations.

They can help with planning and provide great support on the day and may even be able to help share some of the costs.  

Involving others is also a good way to show visitors the breadth of knowledge, skills and expertise used every day across the farming industry.

What about the health and safety or security requirements?

Health and safety is a very important part of running an event, but it should not be a deterrent and certainly shouldn’t overshadow the day.  

Leaf provides practical step-by-step advice to help ensure your event complies with regulations and ensures you and your visitors enjoy the day. 

For example, before the day you must assess what risks there may be to your visitors and take the appropriate action – there are a few simple ‘golden rules’.

For example, if you have livestock and visitors may come in to contact with them, you must provide suitable handwashing facilities.

Many farmers set up low-cost handwashing systems near their livestock specifically for OFS.

Will we receive enough support and resources?

Yes, lots. When you decide to put on an event – no matter how small – Leaf and the team of regional co-ordinators provide support  from the moment you register.

You can sign up to one of a free Information event, which are taking place throughout April to learn from more experienced host farmers, get ideas, advice and inspiration on all aspects of putting on an engaging event. 

All host farmers receive a detailed handbook containing everything they need to know with information on activities for visitors, promoting your event, getting your messages across and health and safety.

Free resources which can also be easily ordered from the Open Farm Sunday website including posters, flyers, gate banners, postcards and stickers.

Visitors at an Open Farm Sunday event

© Andrew Drysdale/REX/Shutterstock

Is there enough to see and do on our farm?

Absolutely. Some farmers think their farm won’t be interesting enough for visitors – particularly where there isn’t livestock. Think again.

No matter what type of farm you have, visitors will be fascinated to learn about your everyday activities. 

Keep things simple and do what you do best and tell your own unique story – this is what visitors want to hear and what they will remember most.

You can talk about the activities you do during the year, how you manage resources such as soil and water, habitat management, wildlife, machinery… it will all be new and fascinating to your visitors.

But what about the weather?

We can plan for most things but unfortunately not the weather.

Don’t let the possibility of bad weather put you off, but have a wet weather plan.

Poor weather may mean fewer visitors, so you will need less parking, less help and fewer refreshments.

 Think about what aspects of your visit could take place indoors or under cover, and consider car parking – how quickly do your fields become waterlogged?

In any pre-event promotion, make sure your visitors come dressed for the weather and let them know you plan to go ahead with the event even if it’s raining. The key thing is to be prepared and plan accordingly.

Isn’t Open Farm Sunday just for Leaf farmers?

You don’t have to be a Leaf member to take part. Regardless of the type or size of farm you have, everyone can, and should, get involved – it is the farming and food industry’s annual open day and the breadth of events is what makes the initiative so unique. 

The theme this year is “Discover the World of Farming” so will show the huge diversity of the industry. This includes how farmers grow crops for food as well as clothing, medicine, cosmetics, fuel and building materials.

Sign up on Open Farm Sunday’s website to share your story on 5 June 2016.

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