Tips to help keep Open Farm Sunday fresh

More farms than last year are planning to take part in Open Farm Sunday 2012, but how do you keep the event fresh and appealing for visitors? Farmers Weekly asked event organiser LEAF

Every farm in the UK is a fascinating place to visit, according to organisers of Open Farm Sunday, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming). The event, taking place on 17 June, is in its seventh year, and LEAF is keen for new farms, especially those in Wales, the North and Scotland, to get involved.

“Open Farm Sunday has had fantastic support over the years from around 1,200 farms who have opened their gates and shown people what they do to produce great food and look after the countryside,” said LEAF events manager Annabel Shackleton.

“We already have around 150 farms that have registered for 2012. It is great that many of them are opening for the first time as we’re keen for more farmers to be involved. In particular we’re hoping to see more smaller events, which bring isolated rural communities together on farms.”

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LEAF ran a series of workshops in February for prospective hosts, and feedback suggests that farmers are still concerned about what activities they can offer, or that visitors may not find their farm interesting.

“This is a very common comment, especially from arable farmers, but experience from previous events shows this simply isn’t the case,” stressed Mrs Shackleton.

“What many farmers regard as a humdrum, everyday working environment is a fascinating learning experience for visitors. Some of the most successful events are small farm walks put on for a couple of dozen visitors from nearby villages – it’s a worthwhile and valuable way to promote what you do and to bring the local community together.”

There are more workshops planned for early May with guidance for both hosts and helpers on activities and key aspects of health and safety.

LEAF’s top tips for successful activities to offer visitors are:

• Make it relevant – start with what people see on the supermarket shelf and work back to how it’s produced on farm

• Make it interactive – think about how you can engage all the senses: see a tractor, smell freshly cut silage, taste some bread, feel a fleece, hear the birds

• Make it personal – tell your own story and connect it to your farm. Let people know your favourite things about farming and the unsung secrets of your farm.

Pollinator pull – first national farm pollinator survey

Open Farm Sunday hosts are being encouraged to take part in a new activity that could become Britain’s biggest ever on-farm survey of pollinators. LEAF has teamed up with Syngenta and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) on a scientific survey to give farmers a fresh activity for their visitors.

“Pollinators play a vital role in agriculture,” said Andrew Coker from Syngenta. “This is why we have helped create over 2,500ha of pollen-rich strips across Europe. Now we want the public to understand that sustainable intensive agriculture is the future for both food production and preserving biodiversity, and at the same time have some fun counting insects.”

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There are two activities hosts can offer visitors, explained CEH’s Dr Helen Roy. “We have designed these to ensure they deliver valid scientific data, as well as being engaging for visitors of all ages.”

The scientific survey involves the farmer marking out two areas on the farm. Visitors spend a little time recording what insects they find in these areas, with the results collated. “We recommend host farmers have a helper who oversees this, and we are producing support packs for participating farms,” said Mrs Shackleton.

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Also available will be activity sheets for visitors to fill in while on a walk or nature trail, that detail five insects selected as key pollinators, including the common blue butterfly and the 14-spot ladybird.

“After Open Farm Sunday all the research will be collated and analysed by a team of scientists and the results shared with farmers to help them conserve pollinating insects on their farms,” noted Mrs Shackleton.

Comprehensive support materials will be online at www.farmsunday.org and printed materials will give instructions on how to implement the survey.


Case study 1: the oilseed story

Northamptonshire grower Duncan Farrington is planning on getting involved with the Pollinator survey to freshen up his Open Farm Sunday event this year.

“We’ve opened three times before and always try to put on a new activity. I like the idea of this survey because, while the main story we tell is about the food we produce, we’re keen to show how farming doesn’t clash with nature conservation. It is of course essential for our Mellow Yellow oil that the oilseed rape crop is pollinated.”

Activities that have gone down well in the past include providing toy tractors, alongside the real tractors and combines that sit in the yard. “Local machinery dealers and neighbours leant us these on the day. We’re all arable, so have no animals. But neighbours bring chickens and sheep. We found someone locally who had a milk-a-cow simulator. Another farmer laid on a hog roast and we offered locally produced beer, raising money for charity.”

A sprayer is opened out in a field with laminated signs telling visitors what it does. GPS maps are used to show visitors the technology used on farms.

“We try to get different visitors each year by varying where we publicise the event. But we find it’s the simple messages that go down best and that those who come have never seen a real working farm before – they simply want to find out what we do each day to produce food.”


Case study 2: Linking with schools

Open Farm Sunday will be the culmination of a week of visits to Molescroft Farms near Beverley, Yorkshire. Host farmer Tamara Hall is laying on farming-themed activities for around 1,000 children who will visit from local schools.

“We’ll have display boards on the Sunday showing people what went on during the week, as well as the activities themselves. I’m hoping a number of the children will revisit with their parents,” she said.

There are seven food-and-farming themed “classes”:

• Pigs and pork – Ladies in Pigs are helping with sausages donated by a supermarket and local farmers Vicky and Kate Morgan are coming to talk about looking after the farm’s Saddleback pigs.

• Dairy – there’ll be butter-making and a milk-a-cow simulator.

• Sheep – another local farmer, George Fell, is putting on a sheepdog demonstration, while children will be able to hold the lambs.

• Conservation – Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be dissecting barn owl poo and tours will show visitors the wildlife areas on the farm.

• Arable – Square metres of crop will be laid out to show how many seeds are used and the crop they produce. Children will be able to grind grain into flour, HGCA is lending an oilseed press and staff from Syngenta will be explaining the role of pollinators and spraying.

• Machinery – Young Farmers and John Deere are helping out with a static display of tractors and cultivation equipment children can sit on.

• Eggs and chicken – the Benerley incubator shop has agreed to bring day-old chicks for children to hold and demonstrate how to candle eggs.

“If you want to lay on a number of activities, the key is to get others involved. Ask them early on, and give them a meal on the day, or the night before. That’s often a good opportunity to brief everyone, too,” advised Ms Hall.

“But you don’t have to go to town – people aren’t expecting a theme park. One of the most popular activities at my event last year was playing on the straw bales arranged in the field.”


Open Farm Sunday sponsors

The event is generously supported by: Asda, Country Life butter, Farmers Weekly, Frontier Agriculture, John Deere, LEAF Marque, Marks and Spencer’s, National Grid, NFU and Syngenta, with additional support from BPEX, DairyCo, EBLEX, HGCA and Assured Food Standards.


Open Farm Sunday May workshops

Date / Venue

Tues 01 May Williamwood Farm, Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, DG11 3LN

Wed 02 May Beaudesert Park Farm, Horsey Lane, Upper Longdon, Rugeley, Staffordshire, WS15 4LN

Thurs 03 May J B Shropshire & sons, Hainey Farm, Barway, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5TZ

Fri 04 May Balliefurth Farm, Grantown-on-Spey, Highlands, PH26 3NH

Tues 08 May Trinley Estate, Finkley, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 6AH

Tues 08 May Molescroft Grange Farm, Grange Way, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 9FS

Tues 08 May Whetstone Pastures Farm, Whetstone Gorse Lane, Whetstone, Leicestershire

Wed 09 May Rushywood Farm, Haselbury Plucknett, Crewkerne, Somerset, TA18 7PH

Thurs 10 May Swillington Organic Farm, Garden Cottage, Swillington, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 8QA

Mon 14 May New Laund Farm, Whitewell, Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 3BN

Tues 15 May Court Farm, Llanthony, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 7NN

• All events are from 1:45pm to 4:30pm. To book your place contact emma.pritchard@leafuk.org tel: 024 7641 3911

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