As 1000s of people make plans to visit a farm as part of the hugely popular Open Farm Sunday operated by LEAF on 5th June, we share with you some interesting insight from Frances Harris about why farmers get involved in teaching the public about what they do.
Much of the British countryside, which many seek to access through footpaths and the right to roam, is owned by farmers. While the public see the countryside as a place for recreation and enjoyment, farmers see it as a place of work. The fields, crops and grazing livestock of the farming industry are easily visible by those passing. However, rarely do those who frequently visit the countryside have an opportunity to meet with a farmer and discuss what they are doing and why.
A growing interest in where our food comes from and how it is produced has resulted in a rise in popular television programmes about farming, both positive (e.g. Jimmy’s farming heroes) and negative. There has been a surge in farmers’ markets and an increase in local food at supermarkets. LEAF, and other food labels, produce links to individual producers. Farmers realise the need to re-connect with consumers to explain their industry and promote confidence in the food they produce.
Open Farm Sunday has run since 2006. In the first year, nearly 300 farms opened. In 2007, more than 400 farms opened, hosting an estimated 150,000 visitors. Individual farms commonly received 400 or more visitors. The largest open farm, Annables, received more than 3000 visitors. This was opened by the farmer who first championed the idea of Open Farm Sunday, Ian Piggott. Numbers have continued to rise over the years, and last year 291,000 people visited a farm on Open Farm Sunday, and 6,000 children attended an Open Farm School Day (data from LEAF).
So why do farmers do it? In 2008 I interviewed 34 about their motivations, and rewards, for hosting visits to their farms. As we approach the month of “Open farm schooldays” and the weekend where more than 400 farmers will open their doors to the public, it’s worth revisiting the reasons why they do so.
- A belief that the wider public (children and parents alike) had lost touch with the knowledge about where food comes from. Famers are keen to explain how food is produced, and teach children about the source of the food they eat.
“Its important for the agricultural industry to engage with customers and future customers.”
2. A belief that that children need to be taken out of the classroom to experience different learning opportunities.
“Education of children through hands-on visits to farms rather than books and academic work a better way”
3. A desire for children to learn about their local environment.
“The school curriculum [comes from] far afield: Africa, S America… but local countryside should be included also”
4. Many farmers feel privileged to have access to the countryside, and want to share this with others.
“Sharing countryside with people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be there.”
5. “To show them why we do what we do.” Explaining complicated farming operations to those who might observe this from a distance, justifying the use of current farming practices, including methods of rearing livestock, use of pesticides and herbicides.
“Get people out, see what we do, grow.”
6. A desire to justify the subsidies that farmers are given. Farmers were well aware that they receive a large amount from the public purse in the form of subsidies and grants, and felt they should show how the money was used, and why it was needed.
“Feel it is part of the social responsibility of farmers to educate the wider public.”
7. Counteract the bad press of E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks, Mad Cow disease. Farmers want to show counteract these fears by showing that they are farming responsibly.
“show how we make food safe and affordable.”
8. Promote agricultural careers.
“The more we can interact with children it will affect their decisions about what they want to do and where they want to work.”
9. Take pride in their work, their industry.
“To promote the industry we spend our lives in.”
“Overcomes “get off my land” perception.”
10. In addition to these industry concerns, many farmers said they did it because of the personal rewards of seeing children really enjoying themselves, and discovering about food, farming and the countryside. This personal, heart-warming reward was, for many, justification in itself to do the visits.
“Pleasure out of seeing them enjoy themselves.”
“I’m very lucky in what I do.”
To see the full research report visit http://bit.ly/1Rt06qS
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