Open Farm Sunday returns next month with the aim of promoting all that is good about farming. Emily Cole speaks to one farmer who took part for the first time last year.
A farmer who took part in Open Farm Sunday for the first time last year is calling on others to sign up to one of the industry’s biggest success stories. Now in its 12th year, Open Farm Sunday has welcomed 1.8 million people onto 1,500 farms across the country.
Steve Jones decided to throw open the gates to Winstone Farm at Ellesmere, after the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and the Co-op, one of his biggest customers, encouraged him to take part.
The 356-hectare (880-acre) site was named the Co-op’s Beef Farm of the Year in 2016 and, not one to do things in half measures, Steve set about rallying troops to help put together a memorable day.
Not content with simply giving people a glimpse of his livestock enterprise, Steve’s event featured a number of attractions and was attended by numerous organisations keen to educate consumers about the agricultural industry.
“We had sheep shearing and a lady with a spinning wheel. She was weaving the wool as we were shearing the sheep,” Steve explains. “A local beekeeper came along, a local quarry donated the use of a trailer for rides around the farm and we even had a troop of medieval re-enactors on site sword fighting with all the kids.”
A farm walk took participants past a wind turbine, at which a neighbour stood all day, ready to tell people about renewable energy. “The local vets had a stall telling everyone about the work we do together and my agronomist showed visitors how we grow our corn,” Steve adds. “The Co-op donated Hereford burgers and sausages and the local dairy donated cheese.”
Perhaps the biggest draw were some animals who had the good grace to be born just two days previously. Steve adds: “Our pet pig had piglets just 48 hours before Open Farm Sunday – the Leaf feedback forms revealed they and the vintage tractors we had on site were particularly popular.”
Keen to show the real side of farming, Steve didn’t shy away from demonstrating the journey of meat from farm to fork. “We showed everyone a calf right through to the cattle who are about to go to slaughter, and then everyone ate burgers made from the cattle we produce.
We wanted to show them the complete circle,” he says. “It’s nice for people who don’t know much about farming to see where their food comes from.” Many farmers potentially worry this could bring about awkward questions, or attract confrontational members of the public, but Steve says he didn’t have a single provocative enquiry.
“My wife is very scary, so we were lucky there as she could answer anything,” he adds. “In all seriousness though, it couldn’t have gone any better.”
The 2016 event attracted at least 450 visitors and Steve hopes to match this on Sunday, June 11, even though he admits they were very lucky with the weather last year.
This year’s Open Farm Sunday event will feature many of the same attractions as last year, with a few additions. For instance, the local John Deere dealership will be providing a fleet of pedal tractors for children to ride on the day. “We’re also having the village fete on site at the same time.
They’re raising money for a village hall and I thought it would save having two separate events,” says Steve. What was already a community event, with many other farmers lending a hand, has now attracted even more assistance and donations from those keen to help out, especially as the money raised will be ploughed back into the village.
“We raise money for the local children’s hospice every year at Christmas when we have reindeer on the farm, so we decided to do the same through Open Farm Sunday last year,” Steve says. “Altogether we collected £1,600 and we were very lucky with the amount of help we had on the day.”
The event further cements Steve and the farm’s position in the community, which is already very close. “People are quick to ring me if there is a tree down or a road blocked,” he adds. “They always come to the farm for a hand. Everyone knows us fairly well, which is nice.”
Despite the event’s huge success, Steve admits it was more of an undertaking than he was prepared for.
“The only downside was the amount of work it took us to get ready for it,” he says. “We’re quite tidy, but we had to do a bit of painting and two lads I employ worked very hard getting everything tidied up.
This year, however, all the painting has already been done, so there will be less to do.” The other concern Steve had – a worry probably shared by many farmers – was health and safety. However, he needn’t have worried, because his preparations ensured the day went smoothly.
“We already have to do a checklist for our insurance, but that didn’t stop it being my biggest worry,” he says. “We made sure on the day none of the machinery was turned on, my contractor was in charge of the trailer and neighbouring farmers came along to help keep an eye on everything.” He advises other farmers taking part this year to over-prepare for this aspect.
“Make sure everything is safe, because we all know what kids are like. Ensure they can’t get into any nooks and crannies,” he adds. “Anywhere we weren’t sure about was blocked off with bales of straw, and we also put a tape around them and ‘no entry’ signs. “We had signs explaining that livestock are dangerous and had plenty of people helping. We gave everyone fluorescent jackets with the farm name on it, so they could be easily identified.”
It’s the assistance he received on the day that Steve is keen to recognise and highlight. “My one piece of advice would be to have plenty of help,” he says. “My neighbours were great. We got a couple of barrels of beer and steak for all the people who helped to enjoy once the gates were closed.
You’ll be surprised how helpful people are willing to be. “Preparation is also key. But above all, enjoy it. I loved meeting everyone and seeing the children enjoy themselves. We have two little lads aged four and six who were over the moon. Plus the ice cream was great. I seem to be eating one in every photo.”