Much of the British countryside, which many seek to access through footpaths and the right to roam, is owned by farmers. While the public see the countryside as a place for recreation and enjoyment, farmers see it as a place of work. The fields, crops and grazing livestock of the farming industry are easily visible by those passing, but they rarely have an opportunity to meet with a farmer and discuss what they are doing and why.
A growing interest in where our food comes from and how it is produced has resulted in a rise in popular television programmes about farming, both positive and negative. There has been a surge in farmers’ markets and an increase in local food at supermarkets. Farmers realise the need to re-connect with consumers to explain their industry and promote confidence in the food they produce.
Open Farm Sunday has run since 2006. In the first year, nearly 300 farms opened. In 2007, more than 400 farms hosted an estimated 150,000 visitors. Individual farms commonly received 400 or more visitors and the largest open farm, Annables, received more than 3000 visitors. This was opened by the farmer who first championed the idea of Open Farm Sunday, Ian Piggott. Numbers have continued to rise over the years, and last year 291,000 people visited a farm on Open Farm Sunday, and 6,000 children attended an Open Farm School Day (data from LEAF).
So why do farmers do it? In 2008 I interviewed 34 about their motivations, and rewards, for hosting visits to their farms. As we approach Open Farm Sunday 2016, it’s worth revisiting the reasons why they do so.
- A belief that the wider public (children and parents alike) had lost touch with the knowledge about where food comes from. Farmers are keen to explain how food is produced, and teach children about the source of the food they eat.
“It’s important for the agricultural industry to engage with customers and future customers.”
- A belief that that children need to be taken out of the classroom to experience different learning opportunities.
“Education of children through hands-on visits to farms rather than books and academic work a better way”
- “To show them why we do what we do.” Explaining complicated farming operations to those who might observe this from a distance, justifying the use of current farming practices, including methods of rearing livestock, use of pesticides and herbicides.
"Get people out, see what we do, grow.”
- Promote agricultural careers.
“The more we can interact with children it will affect their decisions about what they want to do and where they want to work.”
- Many farmers said they did it because of the personal rewards of seeing children really enjoying themselves, and discovering about food, farming and the countryside. This personal, heart-warming reward was, for many, justification in itself to do the visits.
“I’m very lucky in what I do.” and “Pleasure out of seeing them enjoy themselves.”
To see the full research report visit http://bit.ly/1Rt06qS# | Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm School Days are run by Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) | #ofs2016; @francesharris00; @outdoorlearnin2