With Leaf’s Open Farm Sunday event set to go ahead face-to-face when lockdown eases, as well as online, Farmers Guardian caught up with one farming family gearing up to welcome members of the public again this year.
Martin and Arlene Fishwick have been opening their gates to visitors on Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) Open Farm Sunday since 2017; and each year they are reminded how powerful and rewarding it is.
There is no better way, says Martin, who farms with Arlene and two of his six children across Cumbria and north Lancashire, to illustrate to the public how farmers fit into the equation of producing food and looking after the environment than to take them around the farm.
Martin says: “We need to support the public to understand what we do to protect the future of farming. There is a disconnect now that we have to address, because if we don’t, who will?
“With the noise around veganism and what agriculture is doing to the environment, all of us who are working hard to manage the land and produce food need to make our voices twice as loud – otherwise, the public will form their own opinions.
“And this year, with a renewed interest in where food comes from, is a prime opportunity.”
Leaf Open Farm Sunday, Martin says, gives visitors a chance to see how farmers care for their animals and why they do what they do.
“It is all about explaining,” he says.
“For example, what the unseen damage a free-running dog can do and the 10 per cent loss in lambing rate after a sheep worrying incident, even if no sheep were physically harmed at the time. Or how litter can harm wildlife.
“We can also show people the soil, the dung, the wildflowers, the river running through the farm and explain how they all play their part. It’s like a jigsaw, every piece has to fit.”
Fishwick Farms is spread over 430 hectares (1,060 acres) and is run over three farms; a site in Silverdale, Low Bankside at Cartmel and Walton Hall, the neighbouring dairy farm, which they took on in 2019.
Martin took on the farm tenancy at Silverdale 2002 where he and Arlene, who works as a special needs’ teacher during the week, brought up their six children, the youngest of whom is now 25.
The enterprise specialises in suckler calves, prime lambs and rare breeds, including Beef Shorthorn, Belted Galloway and Longhorns used mainly for conservation grazing.
As the multi-generational farming enterprise gets ready to open their gates for the fourth time for Leaf Open Farm Sunday this year, or fifth including last year’s online event, Martin jokes that they probably won’t have to explain why they use vaccinations this year.
He says: “There are always questions about why we vaccinate our animals, but now there will be a greater understanding of why we proactively do it to look after our herd health.
“Comparisons to what is going on in the wider world all helps to bring context and connection to what we are doing on the farm.”
“Comparisons to what is going on in the wider world all helps to bring context and connection to what we are doing on the farm”
The priority for the Fishwicks when it comes to hosting a Leaf Open Farm Sunday event is to keep it personal, and for every visitor to have a chance to speak to someone about farming on the day, which they even made possible when they had 800 visitors in 2019, helped, Martin says, by having a large family.
While four of their six children have pursued careers away from agriculture, they still have a keen interest in the farm business, helping out through the year when needed at the event.
They also invite others they work with to support their event including their vet, a wool spinner who buys their fleeces, and a representative from the Rivers Trust to talk about water and conservation.
Arlene says: “Not only is this a great way to take the pressure off you as hosts, but the more people you have related to farming and talking about how it all fits together, the fuller picture visitors will get.”
The Fishwicks’ also explain that their events are very much self-guided.
Visitors can walk around, see the animals, view the information posters provided by Leaf or see a cattle passport, talk to different people and do some crafts – six-year-old granddaughter Ivy is always a favourite attraction showing her white Galloway cow.
Arlene says: “Often, we are asked why we don’t charge.
“But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s a day out, but it’s also bridging the gap.”
Last year, when the Leaf Open Farm Sunday event moved online because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Fishwicks had fun creating a different kind of day with a mixture of pre-recorded videos and talking on Facebook live.
Their children helped with the filming, while Martin and Arlene took to the front of the camera.
Arlene says: “It worked really well as we could share a lot of what we can’t at an on-farm event.
“We filmed ourselves moving the cows which you couldn’t do with the public there and we could pre-film the milking and post it during the day.
“We could also move across the distances of the different farms to share the conservation story – the wildflowers and other work we are doing. We really enjoyed seeing comments and questions coming through on Facebook as we streamed live.”
In previous years, visitors have come from a 60-mile radius, but the Fishwicks anticipate they may come from further afield this time, with lockdown restrictions easing and summer holidays and staycations bringing an inevitable influx to the countryside.
Fundamentally, they see Leaf Open Farm Sunday as an opportunity to support the public to understand best practice in the countryside, to preserve it as a special place to come and to help farmers do their job.
Asked what they would say to a farmer considering hosting, they say ‘go for it.’
Martin says: “You get out of it what you put in and it’s really rewarding.
“You can do as much or little as you want. If you keep it really small, you have a chance to have fuller conversations. And it’s outside and easy to social distance.”
They also encourage farmers to visit local Leaf Open Farm Sunday events if they are considering hosting, to get a perspective for what may or may not work at their own farm.
Arlene says: “Sometimes, if you read too much in the papers or see the inflammatory documentaries on TV, it can feel like everyone’s against you.
“But actually, when you get people on-farm for Leaf Open Farm Sunday, you realise there’s more support than you think. It’s just a case of having those conversations.”
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