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Tom Martin, G Martin & Sons, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Tom runs a mixed sheep and arable farm set in and around the beautiful Cambridgeshire village of Haddon, near Peterborough. He and his wife, Lisa are passionate about the local community and showing people what happens the other side of the farm gate throughout the year. They have pioneered a new approach to linking up farmers with schools called ‘FaceTime A Farmer’. Tom took part in Open Farm Sunday for the first time in 2017, here he explains more about his event and how it is all part of his determination to connect people with their food and how it is produced.

Mixed sheep and arable farm | Haddon, Cambridgeshire

Com­mu­ni­ty Focus

Get­ting involved in Open Farm Sun­day was an easy deci­sion for us. We’re seri­ous about our role with­in the local com­mu­ni­ty and so it was a nat­ur­al exten­sion of what we are try­ing to do to bring peo­ple clos­er to how their food is pro­duced. There is still a great divorce between farm­ers and the pub­lic so it’s imper­a­tive that farm­ers reach out when­ev­er they can. Open Farm Sun­day is a fan­tas­tic way to do just this. 

It Is All About Your Farm

We start­ed plan­ning in January/​February, when things were a bit qui­eter on the farm. As it was our first time open­ing and unsure about vis­i­tor num­bers, we want­ed to make sure things were scal­able so decid­ed to run the event as a fam­i­ly pic­nic and farm walk. This way, we knew we could cope with 200 to 300 peo­ple but equal­ly, we could han­dle less if we need­ed to. 

We kept things very low key with­out over com­mer­cial­is­ing things. It is the farm that we want­ed to show­case and its role in the com­mu­ni­ty, so we just asked peo­ple to bring their own pic­nic. Of course, if you offer food, you’re then respon­si­ble for a greater duty of care. We bor­rowed a toi­let and hand­wash­ing facil­i­ties from a neigh­bour but didn’t need to do much more oth­er than bring­ing some late born lambs out a cou­ple of times for peo­ple to bot­tle feed. 

Duty of Care

With live­stock, prop­er hand­wash­ing is always a con­cern. We had host­ed vis­its for adults before but this was always going to be a fam­i­ly day. What we realised is that when you invite fam­i­lies onto your farm, it doesn’t mean that par­ents are no longer respon­si­ble for their chil­dren. In fact, invit­ing fam­i­lies means that all chil­dren come with their own stewards! 

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key

We reg­u­lar­ly com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple in the vil­lage, so they feel involved and part of the farm­ing that’s going on around them. For exam­ple, when we are spread­ing manure, we will push a note through doors explain­ing what we’re doing, why it’s impor­tant and how it’s all part of the work farm­ers do to recy­cle digestate. 

We did the same for Open Farm Sun­day; post­ed invi­ta­tions through each let­ter box, used social media, put up posters in local shops and adver­tised in com­mu­ni­ty mag­a­zines. We made it clear that the event would go ahead even if it was rain­ing and advised peo­ple dress for the weath­er. We had a rea­son­able sized gaze­bo for shel­ter (which blew over before the event and had to picked out of the barbed wire fence!). It was fair­ly breezy on the day too and there were a cou­ple of moments when we had near lift off! The windy weath­er’ plan def­i­nite­ly needs to be revis­it­ed next time. 

Break­ing Down Stereotypes

The main thing we need­ed help for was host­ing the walks. We are always look­ing at ways to break down stereo­types so recruit­ed young peo­ple in their 20’s from neigh­bour­ing farms and made sure we had a cou­ple of female guides as well. We had 4 tour guides, and 10 helpers in total, who we met with a week before our event, walked the route and gave them brief­ing notes cov­er­ing things like what fields were called, field sizes, what crops were grow­ing in them, what they would be used for. We also includ­ed some fun facts like how big the field was com­pared to foot­ball pitch­es – using lan­guage that our vis­i­tors could relate to. We also asked the guides to intro­duce them­selves as Farmer Han­nah’, rather than Han­nah’ which was a great way to bust myths around farm­ing being a male dom­i­nat­ed profession. 

Engag­ing With Visitors

Vis­i­tors were giv­en a paper bag of good­ies when they arrived which had a small dis­claimer note sta­pled to the out­side say­ing wel­come to our farm, we hope you have a great day, you are respon­si­ble for every­thing that hap­pens’. The infor­ma­tion book­lets aimed at dif­fer­ent age groups were kept sep­a­rate so that we could go around to the dif­fer­ent pic­nic groups, ask what age group the chil­dren were in and give them the rel­e­vant book­lets. This gave us anoth­er point of inter­ac­tion with vis­i­tors and the dis­claimer on the bag pro­vid­ed a lev­el of reas­sur­ance too. 

Give It A Go

Doing Open Farm Sun­day is a fan­tas­tic way to reach out to the local com­mu­ni­ty, to talk to your cus­tomers about what you do, how farm­ing impacts on their every­day lives and why it mat­ters. All farms – regard­less of size, enter­prise or loca­tion can take part. Just talk­ing to peo­ple, hear­ing their views and see­ing their gen­uine inter­est in what we’re doing to pro­duce food and man­age the coun­try­side is huge­ly reward­ing. Just give it a go and enjoy it! 

Pho­tos from Lisa Miosi photography.

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