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
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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