OPEN Farm Sunday (OFS) takes place this weekend. More than one million people have visited farms on OFS since its inception in 2006.
The results are impressive and emphasise just how important this day continues to be in connecting consumers with farmers and the food they eat.
In 2013, farms of every size, type and location opened up, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience the huge diversity of the sector. Many host farmers joined forces with their neighbours to pool resources and put on larger events, with some reporting visitor numbers exceeding 7,000.
Of course, it’s not all about the amount of visitors, but rather giving people an experience to remember.
Tom Allen-Stevens, south-east OFS regional co-ordinator, said: “One thing I really enjoy about the BBC’s Countryfile programme is the weekly visit to Adam Henson’s farm.
There’s an honesty about the way he pats his bull or grasps an ear of wheat and then tells you about it.
“There’s nothing mind-blowingly fascinating about the farm. He’s not trialling a GM crop, forging a solution to bTB or inventing a new way in wool. It’s just the ordinary goingson of a farm. And I think that’s the secret to it – it’s why the programme draws in nine million viewers every week and what makes 200,000 people visit farms on OFS.
“They’ve come to meet the farmers to experience a little of what it’s like to grow food and care for the countryside. So what I always try to do when I’m showing visitors around or explaining something is tell them about my farm from my point of view. I keep it personal and tell them about the things I enjoy, or dread, or what matters to me – it’s when you’re at your most honest, and most comfortable, and I think people really appreciate it.
“There are a few ‘tricks’, such as always providing something to taste – I usually cut up some bread and provide some rape seed oil to dip it in. It makes the whole experience more memorable if you engage more of the senses. And I provide something for them to take away. One thing I have found works really well is to pull up a wheat plant and share round the tillers to all the children.
We count the grain sites, number of leaves or judge how much disease it’s got. You’ll often find the children still have their ear of wheat when they leave the farm.
“I always try to keep it positive too – there are all sorts of negatives in farming, but OFS is about how my farm’s making a positive contribution to farming. So negatives are banned – it makes you feel much better about yourself if you just concentrate on the positives, and I swear it’s more engaging. If you introduce a bit of magic that helps – everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so why not give a child a bean and suggest it may be a magic one? Or could there be fairies in your wood?
“My final rule is to keep it jargonfree.
You’d be surprised at the words we use that mean something totally different to non-farmers, or are complete gobbledegook. An acre is about the size of a football pitch, a heifer is a female cow and an agronomist a crop doctor.”
Farms open in our area n Nunton Farm, Nunton SP5 4HY, 01722 329743. Farmer Simon Martin has recently installed a rotary parlour for his herd of 720 dairy cows. It was officially opened last month by NFU deputy president and south Wiltshire farmer Minette Batters and Salisbury MP John Glen.
* Cools Farm, East Knoyle, nr Shaftesbury SP3 6DB, 01747 830720. Red Poll cattle and calves, woodland nature trails, a history trail, rowing on the lake, plant sale, soup lunch and cream teas on the farmhouse lawn and various competitions.
* Tarrant Crawford & Abbey Farms, near Blandford DT11 9HY, 07818 000594.
Have a look at a working dairy farm. No timetable but staff will be on hand to answer questions. Good footpaths over the farm and an interesting historic church with wall painting.
* Gold Hill Organic Farm, Child Okeford, Blandford Forum DT11 8HB, 01258 861413. Static machinery display, hosted farm tour, food, farm shop. 11am- 12.30pm.
* New Forest Fruit Company, Newhouse Farm, Church Lane, East Boldre, Brockenhurst SO42 7WS, 01590 612297. Tractor and trailer rides, static machinery display, hosted farm tour.
* Field Barn Farm, Puddleton Road, Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset DT11 0HT, firstname.lastname@example.org. Meet the animals, tractor and trailer rides, static machinery display, see the cows being milked, children’s activities, hog roast, cream teas. 11am-4pm.
* Canon Court Farm, Milborne Port, Sherborne DT9 5AD, email@example.com. Tractor and trailer rides, see the cows being milked, meet the calves, cream teas. 1-4pm.
* Pound Farm, Cranborne Farms, Cranborne, Dorset BH21 5RN, 01725 517168. Free-range pork, beef.
* Boyton Farm, Boyton, nr Warminster BA12 0SS, 01985 850381. Pork, gammon and game. Meet the animals, farm tour, food, farm shop, hour-long tractor rides to see the pigs, cattle and sheep, archaeology, forestry, river walk, make a sock pig, barbecue with Tamworth sausages and hog baps, Boyton beefburgers.
* Leckford Estate, Leckford, nr Stockbridge SO20 6JF, 01264 811221.
Hosted farm tours
* River Bourne Community Farm, Crow Lane, Laverstock, Salisbury SP1 2SR, 01722 330667. Agricultural machinery displays, rural crafts, ferret racing, archery, pony rides, tractor trailer rides, river dipping, bouncy castle, cream teas and hot food throughout the day including barbecue pork sausages from the farm’s traditional breed pigs, pork joints and sausages on sale. Dogs on leads welcome.