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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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