It’s that time of year again when farmers are frantically clearing out unkempt corners of the yard, digging out the hand sanitiser and polishing tractors, as this Sunday 5th June is Open Farm Sunday 2016.
Now in its 10th year, Open Farm Sunday has built to a hugely successful, national event, with over 290,000 visitors last year, and 1.6 million since it began in 2006. Organised by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) it was designed to get people out into farms to see first hand how farming works, and where their food comes from. With one in five visitors last year saying they had never been on a farm before, it seems to be hitting its goals.
If you want to get out and find out more, there are plenty of opportunities locally, and on quite different farms.
Washingpool Farm near Bridport is open (10am-4pm) and is a good option if you need somewhere accessible. With cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, a large farm shop and a cafe, there is lots to see, and they wil be running activities in the Discover Farming classroom. You can see the polytunnels and market garden that supply the shop, and have tractor & trailer rides around the farm.
Furzeleigh Down Farm near Axminster is open 10.30am-4pm, and is a dairy farm with its own ice-cream parlour on site. You can see the robotic milking parlour, meet chef & author Tim Maddens, meet experts from the agricultural industry, watch spinning & weaving demonstrations, and there will be pony rides & bouncy castle for the children. Obviously, ice-cream will feature heavily! There will be a BBQ serving home-produced burgers and sausages.
Down towards Seaton is Trill Farm (11am-4pm), an organic farm which supplies many of the local restaurants and cafes with meat and vegetables, especially organic salad leaves. You will be able to see the farm and market garden, meet the animals, find out about courses on offer and other activities there including soap making. Refreshments will be available, and produce to buy.
Further inland is Lower Hewood Farm (12-5pm), just up the hill from Forde Abbey. With organic Jacob sheep and pigs, this small farm nestles in an idyllic spot, and tours of the farm will be available as well as the self-guided walks. At 3pm there will be a scything demonstration on the green, and produce will be available to buy, including sausages and burgers on the day. With very varied land, this is of especial landscape and wildlife interest, and the SNCI field of yellow flag iris is well worth a visit. Lower Hewood Farm is also a venue for Dorset Art Weeks, with a photography exhibition by James Ravilious, and is surrounded by 5 or 6 other DAW venues, so you could easily make a day of it.
Finally, at Seaton is Gatcombe Farm, open from 10.30am-3.30pm. (This is listed as mostly accessible). They will be doing tractor & trailer rides, will have static machinery displays, and you will be able to see the robotic milking in action.
If you’ve never been to a farm before, I strongly urge you to take this opportunity, as there are so many assumptions and misconceptions about farming, it’s fascinating to see it up close and personal. If you are really into farming, it’s still worth a visit, as every farm is so different from every other, with different crops, systems, priorities, budgets, approaches and core values. In these days of diversification, the farming itself is often just a small part of a large jigsaw, and a farmer needs to also be an economist, marketing expert, salesman, conservationist, scientist and engineer as well as ‘just’ a farmer. If you have time, it would be very interesting to do two different farms and compare.
For full details of any of the farms above, visit the Open Farm Sunday website. All these open farms are free to enter, although charges may apply for certain activities, and all of the ones listed above are offering food, so I suggest you sample the goods first-hand!