Rural Yorkshire has a compelling story to share and it is one which farmers stand to benefit from telling to the public by taking part in the nation’s big day out on the farm.
That is the message from Annabel Shackleton, chief organiser of LEAF Open Farm Sunday, who said a “phenomenal” response to last year’s event proves there is a growing appetite for seeing farming close up.
“Last year we almost got 300,000 people out on farms which is phenomenal. Demand is increasing so we need more farmers to take part,” Ms Shackleton told Country Week, as national charity LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) prepares to co-ordinate the next edition of an annual event which has taken 136,000 visitors to 72 different farms in Yorkshire over the last decade.
This year, the annual open day provides a platform that serves the farming community’s best interests at a time when British agriculture’s future is being reshaped, she said.
Explaining the importance to farmers of the 2019 event, Ms Shackleton explained: “With the way agricultural policy is going, future payments will be based on the delivery of public goods, the services farmers deliver and providing access to the countryside to the public. If that’s the case, farmers have to get on board.
“It’s increasingly important that the public values not just British food but how farmers manage soils and wildlife, and the best way to do that is through inviting the public on farm.”
So far, 250 farms have signed up to 2019’s LEAF Open Farm Sunday on June 9, including 22 in Yorkshire.
LEAF insists there is still plenty of time for more farms to join in, with at least another 100 expected to open their gates to the public.
Ms Shackleton urged Yorkshire’s farmers to seize the moment.
“Yorkshire produces some brilliant food and manages some wonderful countryside. It has an amazing story to tell the public and it needs to be telling it,” she said.
“Thousands of people will have visited Yorkshire over the Easter holidays and they will have appreciated the countryside but they won’t necessarily have understood what they were seeing and how farmers are producing food.
“Open Farm Sunday is a great opportunity to raise the profile of what farmers are doing, as well as the profile of the Yorkshire countryside.”
She said newcomers need not be fazed and should consider hosting a small event to start with in order to show their neighbours what happens on their farm.
It is a common misconception that the disconnect between food and farming is an urban problem, she added.
“A lot of people who live in rural areas nowadays don’t work within the farming sector, they get in their cars and drive to work and have no concept, or very little, of what farmers are actively doing,” Ms Shackleton said.
Offering words of advice to newcomers, she went on to say: “When people think of Open Farm Sunday they think of big events but if you are organising a small event for the local community; whether it is a farm walk or something simple, people will welcome the opportunity to go behind the scenes and hear the stories about livestock and how the farm has changed over the years.
“There are all sorts of stories farmers can tell.”
Negative messages about farming practices have become more frequent on social media in recent times, but Ms Shackleton said it was not putting farmers off from engaging with the public, despite LEAF having fielded calls from some farmers who have raised concerns about anti-farming activists attending events.
“Every farmer I have spoken to this year who has said ‘this as a potential concern, how do we deal with it?’, it’s not a case of them saying we’re not doing it, they are being strong and positive. There is so much misinformation out there and they are keen to address it with the public.”
She said that anyone who is really worried about their event being targeted could consider holding an invitation only event and that farmers can take advantage of LEAF’s new free-to-use ticketing service which is being operated for the first time this year via TryBooking.
“By making it ticket only, you know who’s coming, you can communicate with them in advance, you have their contact details and you can control numbers,” she said.
Since LEAF Open Farm Sunday started 13 years ago, almost 2,000 farmers have hosted events and have welcomed more than 2.2 million visitors.
Any farmers interested in signing up to host an event on Sunday, June 9 this year who would like to talk through how it works, can call LEAF for guidance and support on 024 7641 3911.
For more details, see www.farmsunday.org/open-my-farm
Organisers of LEAF Open Farm Sunday are hoping a record number of farms in Yorkshire sign up to host an event.
At the time of writing, 22 farms from the region had registered an event to welcome the public to their farm on Sunday, June 9 - just one short of the total number who opened their gates last year. The highest number of regional participants to date was in 2010, when 30 farms took part.
Ms Shackleton said: “Let’s make 2019 a record breaking year for Yorkshire. We need eight more farms across the region to register and host an event.”