The tenth annual Open Farm Sunday is now just two weeks away and farms across Yorkshire are busy getting ready. All the indications are that this year’s event will be the biggest so far – with more people likely to visit a farm on June 8 than will attend Glastonbury Festival.
I became involved pretty early on. I had returned home to our family farm near Beverley in 2003 and was surprised at how the reality of British farming differed from what I’d read in the media whilst living in Leeds.
Open Farm Sunday seemed the perfect opportunity to give people the chance to see this reality for themselves so we held our first farm walk for 30 visitors in 2007. Over the years this has grown to more than 400 visitors and this interest is replicated across the country with more than a million people attending an Open Farm Sunday event in the last nine years.
Such is my passion for Open Farm Sunday that I am now the Yorkshire regional co-ordinator and help other farmers plan their events. The one thing I’ve learned is that every farm is different and each event is unique. Open Farm Sunday offers an interesting and fun day out for everyone, young and old alike. The farms lay on a host of activities from nature walks and farm tours, to sheep shearing, machinery displays and even cookery demonstrations. Finding a local event is easy too as they are all registered online at www.farmsunday.org and new farms are registering every day.
Talking to farmers who want to get involved, I always advise them to visit an event first to get some inspiration. Most farmers hold their first event because they want to show people how food is produced. They don’t think it will be ‘fun’ as such, but soon realise it is and often rave about how rewarding it is to meet people who are interested and enthusiastic about farming and food. Meeting children is especially rewarding and we’ve had some challenging questions to answer: “Do you need a brown cow to get chocolate milk?” for example.
There is always something new to learn on a farm. Take pigs’ tails for example - most adults don’t know that if you tickle a pig’s bottom its tail straightens or that they wag their tails when they are happy.
Along with other farmers across the country, we have now developed our event into a week-long opportunity for school visits. It means we don’t actually open on the Sunday, as we’re all quite tired by the weekend, but the school days add another dimension to this celebration of British food and farming.
All in all, Open Farm Sunday is a flagship initiative that the industry should be proud of. We know the vast majority of people back British farming and there is no doubt that Open Farm Sunday has played its part in encouraging people to take an interest in where their food comes from. I’m excited once again this year at what we have planned and hope the weather stays kind for the thousands of people planning a family day out.
Tamara Hall is a member of the National Farmers’ Union. She farms in the East Riding and is the Yorkshire region’s co-ordinator for Open Farm Sunday. The annual event is organised nationally by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).