Engaging with the public about agriculture is not something that comes naturally to every farmer.
So it was understandable that the two farms involved in the Resilient & Ready programme approached the prospect of opening their gates in June for the first time with a certain degree of trepidation.
Siblings Bryony and Archie Graham, and husband and wife team Lucy and Nick Tyler, are the second intake of the three-year Resilient and Ready initiative, which is a collaboration between Corteva Agriscience and LEAF.
Bryony and Archie are no strangers to welcoming hundreds of people onto Lodge Farm, having set up a popular wedding diversification on their 300ha site in Essex.
However, they admit they were nervous to take part in the annual event, having never opened the farm itself.
“We had 300 people pre-registered, but we stopped advertising because I freaked out a bit!” Bryony admits. “I was very conscious that it was something we’d never done before.”
However, the day exceeded their expectations. “Around 175 people came, which was much more manageable,” Bryony says. “It showed me that we were ready, and we could’ve hosted double the amount of people without batting an eyelid.
“We learned a lot – we had a big display of machinery, but we needed to do something with it really; something moving to show visitors what it could do. But, overall, the team which work on the farm found it really motivating and we know now that we have the facilities so we will approach next year’s Open Farm Sunday with much more confidence, ready to push it really hard.”
Bryony said the location of their holding lends itself to public engagement.
“We’re so close to London and a number of other big towns, so we think we have something that’s quite powerful to offer in terms of showing people what the countryside looks like and where their food comes from.
“When you consider how many farms are struggling and, sadly, not surviving in this part of the world, you could say that it’s even more important that we do our bit to speak up for the sector we work in.”
Local farmers joined in on the day to show kit from different eras. There was also an activity matching different grains to the foods that they are turned into, and bug catching among the wildflowers.
“Open Farm Sunday is an opportunity for communication about how modern farming works in order to produce food to feed people,” Bryony added.
“We are opening our doors to be completely transparent about how these things work.”
An unexpected bonus, Bryony said that planning the event also turned into an opportunity to bring local members of the farming community together to help. “That’s been my favourite thing about planning it."
Lucy and Nick Tyler, who run an 850ha mixed dairy, beef and arable business in Wiltshire, admit they also had a few butterflies having never taken part before.
“We always imagined Open Farm Sunday as a bit of a free-for-all and it felt overwhelming, particularly as we’re a working dairy unit so there are always people trying to milk cows and drive tractors around,” says Lucy. “The logistics of health and safety felt too challenging.”
A conversation with Andy Bason, a Hampshire farmer who completed the first Resilient & Ready programme, changed their minds.
“His event welcomed around 1,000 people this year, but it didn’t start at that level – he had just 50 people to begin with,” Lucy says. “That made us think that maybe we could do it – we decided to just do two guided tours of the dairy for people living in our village.
“Each tour was for 25 people and we took them around personally, alongside our landscape and nature conservationist and a representative from LEAF.”
Nick adds: “Better to spend two to three hours with 50 people and invest in that so they go away with a positive message, rather than have 300 people on site, which could be a logistical nightmare you need to spend a week preparing for.
“I’ve heard stories in the past about dairy farmers struggling to answer difficult questions because there are too many people on site and they can’t help everyone.
“Whereas when we had difficult questions, we could answer them by having a discussion with the group – it meant we could explain things in a direct way that they completely understood.”
Lucy adds that Open Farm Sunday helped them realise they can educate people in a way that suits their farm.
“Although we only had 50 people on the farm, we painted a really positive picture of British farming,” she says. “They went away excited about agriculture and we hope that some of the younger visitors might even consider a career in farming.”
Overall, Nick and Lucy had a positive experience and received encouraging posts on Facebook following the event.
“The visitors were really impressed by our commitment to animal health and welfare, and they were really excited to learn about what we’re doing for the environment – they could see we’re trying to preserve and enhance the landscape for future generations and that we view ourselves as custodians of the countryside,” says Lucy.
“I think we will go a bit bigger next year! We might head up to the grain store and do a more arable-focused Open Farm Sunday with tractor rides, and maybe sell some of our Wagyu burgers too.
“We’ll probably do an Open Farm Sunday ‘week’ – we might as well arrange school visits from Monday to Friday, because we’ll already be set up for the Sunday.”