At last years Open Farm Sunday, more than 400 farms opened their gates, welcoming 150,000 people. Not bad for an annual event thats only been going since 2006. Its the brainchild of Ian Piggott, a Hert-fordshire farmer and former City trader, who brought the idea back from a trip to Denmark. He wanted to make sure that the younger generation was really getting to grips with the idea of where their food came from, and his instinct could not have been more timely, with the increasing interest in organic produce and food miles.
Open Farm Sunday is now a nationwide event, organised by the charity Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF). With more than 500 farms all around Britain expected to open, says Caroline Drummond, chief executive of LEAF, children will have plenty of opportunities to take time to listen to the birds, soak up the scenery nurtured by the farmer, experience the smells of the farmyard, and really get in touch with the land that sustains us.
The farmers offer varying events, including rare-breed displays, farmers markets, sheep shearing, welly wanging and mud puddling which is why the day has proved to be such a success. North Yorkshire farmer Robert Phillip, 52, of Green Farm, was surprised by the response last year. We were blessed with a glorious day, and it went amazingly well. About 500 people participated, we put on lots of events, and people stayed all day. They were happy meandering about, looking at things and just being on the farm. Weve lots more planned this year, including vintage tractors, farm tours, old Land Rovers, the Highlands, hens and a barbecue.
Farms of all sizes get involved, from big estates to family smallholdings. They all have a desire to get the farming message across to the public, particularly the younger generations. One farm decided to take part last year after a customers grandchild asked: Granny, can we visit the farm where the hens lay their eggs and the pigs lay their sausages?
Mr Phillip explains that children were his focus, as one in five has never visited a rural area (according to a survey carried out by the Year of Food and Farming). A lot of children wrote thank-you letters, which was great, as they were our target audience. When theyre out here, they love it they have so much fun for free. They loved the straw-bale course we built for them to climb on, and the animals were a big draw.
LEAF member Sarah Righton, 41, of Old Farm, Gloucestershire, has two young children herself and works hard to keep youngsters interested. The children love the baby animals generally a calf and some piglets, but we might hatch some eggs out as well. Although the lambs wont be tiny any more, they do skip and jump around the field. We like inviting people to the farm: were proud of what we do. People love seeing everything up close. Its all very well looking at it all on television, but to actually touch and smell it is a very different thing.
If youre interested in registering your farm, the website (below) has plenty of good advice on how to structure your day, and what you could offer. The supporting literature to help you get the message across is also extensive, from postcards to information packs and, for those of you who may be nervous about speaking to the public, the Open Farm message is simple: Be posi-tive, keep it simple and make it a fun day for everyone to remember.
Open Farm Sunday 2008 takes place on June 1; for further information, telephone 0247 641 3911 or visit www.farmsunday.org
For information on the Year of Food and Farming, visit www.yearoffoodandfarming.org.uk