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Ali Capper, Stocks Farm, Herefordshire/Worcestershire

Ali Capper runs Stocks Farm, a 200 year old hop and fruit farm on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border, in partnership with her husband and father in law. The farm has been in the Capper family for more than half a century and is proud to be one of the UK's leading hop producers. Part of their commitment to farming sustainably is to develop the family business in a way that involves and benefits the local community. Getting involved in LEAF Open Farm Sunday for the first time in 2017, was a key part of this. Ali Capper tells us more…

Hop and fruit farm | Herefordshire/Worcestershire | 200 visitors

Engaging the local community

As a family business, we are always looking at ways to connect with our local community and had been toying with doing LEAF Open Farm Sunday for a few years.  One of the challenges we face is that in June, our apples are very tiny and there are no hops to see, so we questioned how we could demonstrate what we do.  We’d done an open day for the past three years, but always during the harvest in September when the farm is at its most dynamic.  The turning point came with the launch of our on-farm brewery so we had a great ‘farm-to-glass’ story to tell!

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Growing local profile

Our other motivation for doing LEAF Open Farm Sunday was to put our brewery on the local map and increase traffic through the door.  We already had a reasonable profile, but were keen to be affiliated with LEAF as so much of what they promote around sustainable farming is in line with our own approach.  As a business, aligning ourselves with LEAF and benefitting from all the publicity Open Farm Sunday generates was a definite win-win.

Our event

Logistics were our biggest concern for the event itself.  We decided to keep it very tight and knew from experience that we had to deliver something easily understandable.  Visitors were split into three groups of about seventy people, but we could easily have had more groups. We toured the hop fields, talked about how we farm hops and the challenges around pests, disease and weather.  Visitors then went to the hop picking machine and kiln to see how they are processed and dried before being baled for delivery and finally into the Unity Brewhouse brewery where they met our Head Brewer, Sarah Saleh who showed them different tanks and talked about mashing-in and fermentation.  We ended the tour with some sampling and had bottles of beer, apple juice and some of our homebrew hops on sale.  We also set up tables outside the brewery with educational materials from LEAF, AHDB and the NFU which helped to entertain some of the children who came whilst parents sampled the beer.

Car parking was another consideration as we don’t have a large car parking area, so we utilised the hop yard and parked cars between orchard trees close to the road.We had  helpers in high viz vests to ensure there were no accidents with visitors crossing the road.  A neighbour offered his field for any over spill too.

A helping hand

We were unsure on visitor numbers so wanted to make sure we had plenty of bodies on the ground to help. Eight members of staff, together with neighbours and relatives were on hand.  We gave them a written brief which included topics such as health and safety, fire, smoking etc. All helpers wore a fluorescent jacket to make them easily identifiable to visitors and each of the tour groups had a designated lead and a ‘sweeper up’ at the back.

Promotion

Promotion was predominantly through our entry on the LEAF Open Farm Sunday website; we also issued a press release to two local newspapers and put a flyer in the doctor’s surgery.  In the end, we had about 200 visitors, which was just about right.

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Putting us on the map

There is no doubt that doing Open Farm Sunday is a fantastic way to raise your local profile. We had lots of young families coming along so it was great to connect with them and the local primary school raised over £400 at our event.

We never stop being surprised by the reaction we get from visitors when they come to the farm, see what we’re doing, tell them about the supermarket specifications we have to adhere to and what goes into making the perfect pint. For most people, it comes as a real revelation.  Being able to share what we are doing is really rewarding.   We had lots of stimulating discussion and questions around values, prices and costs; visitors genuinely wanted to understand the farm’s relationship with customers.  LEAF Open Farm Sunday provides the perfect platform for farmers to showcase the fantastic work they do. 

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