LEAF Open Farm Sunday has positive impact on career prospects
The agricultural sector, like many, is continuing to face a workforce crisis. Businesses right across the country are struggling to recruit staff, despite offering excellent benefits, investment in personal development through training and, in some cases, the opportunity to be at the forefront of advancements within the sector. This crisis is not just facing farming operations that are looking for team members to rear livestock or grow crops, but the whole industry, from agricultural engineers and vets to researchers and scientists, hauliers, auctioneers, grain buyers and journalists to name but a few.
With not enough individuals working in the industry to meet the growing demand for jobs, it is more important than ever that the sector demonstrates the wide and diverse range of careers available associated with agriculture. LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Open Farm Sunday is one organisation that is making a significantly positive impact.
In 2022, almost half (49%) of visitors said an individual within their group was inspired to consider a career in farming after attending a LEAF Open Farm Sunday (LOFS) event. With 20% of visitors having never visited a farm before, and visitors spanning both rural and urban areas, the initiative is helping to raise awareness and attract new people to the industry, some of whom already have a small connection to farming but may not have considered it as a long-term career.
Hannah Darby from Roughs Farm in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire volunteered at a LOFS event hosted by Tom Martin, at Village Farm, in 2017. A chance encounter with 16-year-old Sam Baynes opened up a conversation about future employment, and now six years on, he is an integral part of the 800-acre arable farming operation.
Sam had always had a watchful eye on farming, occasionally visiting his uncle’s farm in Cambridgeshire but, after completing school, he wasn’t quite sure what came next.
“I remember sitting in a combine harvester as a kid and it sparked an interest in farming. I would often look out of my window to try and see what they were doing in the field. When I was old enough to drive, I managed to get some work experience turning hay in an old Ford 4000 tractor that had no air conditioning, but I still had no plan what I was going to do with my future.
“So, I registered to attend Shuttleworth College [part of Bedford College] to do a general agricultural course which felt like an easy next step after school.”
Sam had gone along to the LOFS day after a friend, who worked at the farm, had asked for his help monitoring some machinery and tractors, which were on display for visitors. Hannah noticed Sam helping and curiosity got the better of her.
“We were packing up at the end of the day and I spotted Sam sitting quietly on the back of a cultivator. I was intrigued so I went over to ask him what he was doing. He was really shy but chatted a little about what he was up to and his plans for college, and it led to us discussing some work experience.
“We have always had a strong family history of working with students. It was something my dad was very passionate about, and my uncle and I have continued that legacy, ensuring we support the next generation. However, with a number of changes at the farm in 2017, we hadn’t had a student for a while, but it was something we had started to think about again.”
A week after the LOFS event, Sam got a phone call from Hannah, something that had come as a nice surprise as they hadn’t exchanged numbers at the event, and his summer work experience commenced.
Sam quickly realised how much he enjoyed working on the farm, and learning hands-on so he plucked up the courage to ask Hannah if she would consider supporting an apprenticeship, which would allow him to remain working on the farm beyond the summer whilst also still gaining a qualification from the college.
“Not long after I started with Hannah, I started to get a bit more clarity about what I wanted to do with my future and working on the farm, completing a mixed range of jobs, really appealed. But I also wanted to learn all the theory and I was mindful I had a place at college.
“Shuttleworth was great, they allowed me to transfer to the apprenticeship and I have since worked with amazing people, gaining lots of practical experience as well as my own freedom to do my own job and gain responsibility.
“It has helped increase my confidence and my interest in learning about more than just the basic principles that I would have covered in the classroom. I really want to understand what we are doing and why.”
Through his training and support from Hannah, Sam is involved in all aspects of growing the crops from drilling and spraying to harvesting and machinery maintenance. This has released Hannah so she can concentrate more on the management of the farm, which has resulted in the business expanding and looking at new opportunities.
“We have a brilliant team of four, and when Sam joined it brought a new injection of energy as it always does when you bring in a fresh perspective. He was keen to learn, and it was evident early on that he was going to be very willing and able as he was listening and absorbing everything.
“It gave the team reassurance that we could give him more responsibility, which, when we then looked at the future of the business, provided us with certainty that we had a strong team to take on more.”
Hannah has recently purchased some additional land, expanded their stewardship and renovated two properties, built in 1865, converting them into holiday cottages, collectively sleeping 14 guests at Roughs Farm Retreats.
This has not only brought a new income stream into the business, it has allowed Hannah and Sam the opportunity to showcase the farming story further to their farm visitors, and they are considering their own LOFS event in the future.
“I have so much to thank LEAF Open Farm Sunday for. Not only did it allow me to speak to visitors and give me some ideas for doing something on my own farm, it also gave me a chance to look at the future and see what more we could do by recruiting the right people.
“I love farming and all it brings, meeting Sam and seeing how enthusiastic he is, has increased my enjoyment. It gave all the existing team a lift whilst also keeping us on our toes!
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