LEAF reports successful Open Farm Sunday in spite of Covid-19

Over 100 British farms opened their gates on 27th June for the first LEAF Open Farm Sunday (LOFS) since June 2019 – with one in three farms taking part for the first time.

(l-r) Imogen Stanley of Rectory Farm, LOFS manager Annabel Shackleton, LEAF CEO Caroline Drummond and Defra farming minister Victoria Prentis MP at Rectory Farm for LOFS 2021.

Thousands of people took the opportunity to visit a working farm and see first-hand all that is involved in the sustainable production of the food they eat and what farmers do to look after the wider environment.

Given the current Covid regulations, less farms than usual chose to open, with pre-booking a key requirement to limit visitor numbers, but this did not diminish the enthusiasm farmers put into sharing their farming stories and showcasing British farming, LEAF says.

Most farms offered socially-distanced farm walks or guided tours, giving visitors a great opportunity to talk directly with farmers and enjoy a really personal experience of farming.

This year, LEAF’s ‘Take 30’ campaign encouraged farmers to take small groups of 30 on a farm walk, which chief executive Caroline Drummond saidclearly resonated really well”. Of the farms that opened, one in three did so for the first time.

“We also really appreciated the feedback we’ve had from farmers who, for a variety of reasons, chose not to open this June, but sent messages of support,” she added. “Many of them have indicated that they plan to open again in 2022 and we’re already looking forward to next year.

“It has never been more important that we continue to raise awareness of all that British farmers deliver in supporting our health and wellbeing, producing nutritious food, managing our beautiful countryside and protecting and enhancing our environment through climate positive, regenerative farming.

“As an industry, we need to build deeper and stronger connections with consumers, to have conversations, answer questions and seize every opportunity to share what we are doing to address the climate and nature emergency. In doing so, this will help drive appreciation, trust and ultimately more informed food choices.”

Tom Mead, Meads Farm, welcomed 73 visitors for three evening events.

Defra farming minister, Victoria Prentis MP joined Caroline Drummond for a tour of Rectory Farm near Oxford, and said: “British farmers do so much to not only produce the nutritious food we eat, but also to care for the environment. It is vital that people understand more about all that farmers do and the high standards of food production and animal welfare in Britain.”

Rectory Farm, which has a thriving soft fruit and vegetable Pick Your Own, also produces LEAF Marque certified wheat, potatoes and asparagus for processing, supplying supermarkets and also direct sales to local delis and restaurants.

The fully booked LOFS event welcomed 50 visitors each hour during the day to learn about sustainable farming, see the machinery used on the farm and meet the Stanley family, their farming team and friends.

Imogen Stanley who led the tour with minister Prentis, spoke of the importance of communicating with the public: “I’m so keen to help educate children and families about farming and how food is produced. Everyone needs to be eating more freshly cooked produce, and what better way to do that than by giving visitors the experience of picking their own fruit and vegetables, and meeting the farmers who grow crops on a commercial scale.”

Farmers share their LOFS stories

Herefordshire farmer Hazel Andrew, who welcomed 350 visitors to Awnells Farm, said the event helps to connect people to where their food comes from.

“We love showing the public our prizewinning Herefordshire cattle. The public are too far removed from where our food comes from. Everybody has lost the reason for farming. They think the countryside is a playground.

“We love having school children come to visit and learning, but we’ve realised over the years that adults need to learn as well. That’s why we’ve taken part in LEAF Open Farm Sunday for the past eight years.”

Tim Barton, of Brewood Park Farm in Staffordshire, opted to limit his first LOFS event to 30 visitors and soon filled all spaces. He said: “About half the group hadn’t been to a farm before, and they left with a greater understanding about how we produce food in an environmentally responsible way.”

Going down the route of ticketing meant more prep beforehand but made things easier to manage on the day, he added.

Tim Barton, Brewood Park Farm, speaking to visitors.

Northumberland farmer Anne Mair Chapman also found that making time to position signs, clear walking routes and plan ahead all paid off on the day – allowing them to relax, enjoy the day and talk to visitors.

Tom Mead, of Meads Farm in Cambridgeshire drew in 73 visitors for three evening events, limited to 25 per tour – the first time the farm had participated in LOFS.

“We really enjoyed hosting the tours for our first OFS events. We had really interested audiences, with good questions and discussion. Lots of chat about where our cereal crops go, how to grow them, why to buy Silver Spoon sugar, pesticides, soil, carbon and some of the challenges and opportunities in the farming sector.

“Everyone stayed around afterwards for a drink and a chat and were really positive. We have had lots of thank yous since which gives us a great buzz as we head into a busy harvest. We will definitely be taking part next year.

“The bookable farm tours were a great starter OFS for us so we would really recommend to others wanting to talk about farming but not necessarily host a big event (…yet!).”

LEAF Open Farm Sunday 2022 will take place on Sunday 12th June.

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