Open Farm Sunday, the UK agriculture and horticulture sector’s annual open day takes place on June 5 this year and organiser Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) is urging buyers to support the initiative. Produce Business UK finds out from one grower about the tangible benefits of reaching out to customers and consumers to share information on what producers do and why
Over the last decade, LEAF has been helping consumers of all ages to connect with the story behind their food, by organising Open Farm Sunday. To date, 1.6 million people have visited a farm on what is now regarded as the farming industry’s ‘national open day’.
What better way for growers and farmers to build trust and understanding in the industry, plus increase market demand, than to invite the public onto farms to see the skill, expertise, science, technology and sheer hard work that is involved? Last year, 14% of the 389 farms that opened on Open Farm Sunday were vegetable-growing operations.
Discovering what sustainable farming is all about
Annabel Shackleton, Open Farm Sunday manager, explains: “LEAF’s vision is to continue to grow the reach and impact of Open Farm Sunday so that more people can visit a farm and discover what sustainable farming is all about. Ultimately, we want to create an opportunity for everyone to visit a farm and discover the vital work of British farmers in growing our food and enhancing the countryside. We urge everyone in the sector to join us to help make this happen.”
It is a sentiment that large scale vegetable producer, Simon Day from Worth Farms in Holbeach Marsh in south Lincolnshire, echoes, whilst also pointing out the personal satisfaction he has enjoyed by getting involved.
Here, Day tells Produce Business UK why getting involved in Open Farm Sunday makes good business sense and forms a vital part of engaging with the wider supply chain.
What does the Open Farm Sunday (OFS) initiative mean to you and your business?
Simon Day (SD): Hosting Open Farm Sunday was a natural progression for Worth Farms. We have a long commitment of reaching out to the general public through our role as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. As a business, we are passionate about promoting British agriculture and the work farmers do to protect and manage the countryside, so doing Open Farm Sunday seemed the natural next step.
What do you get out of it? Has it boosted sales? By how much?
SD: Worth Farms has been involved with Open Farm Sunday since its inception in 2006 and last year, for the 10th anniversary, we received over 1,000 visitors. It’s great for staff morale. The tremendous sense of satisfaction the whole team gets from talking to the public directly about how we are producing their food is immeasurable and the more people know about how their food is produced, the more they are likely to support the UK farming industry.
How do you think it benefits your business and your relationship with your customers?
SD: There are numerous business benefits – the main ones being improved community relationships and a better public profile for the farming industry. As a business, you have to look outwards and really connect with your customers. Open Farm Sunday is a great way to do this.
Have you made closer ties with retailers or other customers as a result?
SD: The supermarkets we supply see our involvement in Open Farm Sunday as hugely positive. It shows we are a forward-looking business, we’re proud of what we do and we’re willing to share the wonderful work we are doing. It’s a win-win.
Is there any sponsorship or other kind of retailer backing for OFS?
SD: Open Farm Sunday is supported widely by the whole farming industry – including a number of retailers; Asda, M&S, Sainsburys, Tesco, The Co-operative and Waitrose. Farmers opening their farms benefit from this sponsorship as it goes to support the production of free publicity materials, training for host farmers to put on great events and running a hugely successful nationwide media campaign around Open Farm Sunday.
What kind of response do you get from consumers? What do they say they have learned and enjoyed from their visits?
SD: Open Farm Sunday is our one chance in the year to show off what we do and promote agriculture. Visitors are so interested and inspired by what they see, from the machinery we use, the work we do to promote wildlife on the farm, to the science behind vegetable growing. As farmers, we sometimes forget that the everyday things we do are fascinating to the general public.
What sort of changes have you made to your business as a result of OFS?
SD: Our customers drive the whole ethos of the business so we’ve always got our eyes firmly set on meeting their expectations. We have a designated education room and have established close links with local schools, community groups and farmer discussion groups, hosting visits to the farm throughout the year, not just on Open Farm Sunday.
What would you say to other growers? Why should they get involved?
SD: Just give it a go – you will be surprised how much you will get out of the event. You’ve got to be involved to try and inspire the future farmers and let the public understand how the food they consume is produced. By opening the door it’s the only chance a lot of people get to come onto a farm and see how things are done.
How else do you think producers and other businesses in the supply chain can get people connected with fresh produce and with their food in general?
SD: The more farmers and the food industry are able to communicate directly to the public, the more people will understand and, importantly, trust the food they eat.
Where do you go from here? How do you build on OFS and its messages?
SD: We’ll continue to find new and innovative ways to reach out to our customers. Social media presents an exciting opportunity for us and it’s an area we are keen to build on.