LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), organisers of the farming industry’s annual open day LEAF Open Farm Sunday (LOFS), has today (19 January) announced a year-round programme of public engagement to support this flagship event.

In addition to LOFS on-farm events on the 13 June 2021, which in previous years have seen over a quarter of a million people visit farms across the UK, LEAF will be hosting a series of virtual farm visits online.

Following last year’s success, two online farm open-days will take place this Spring and Autumn, alongside a programme of monthly live broadcasts running throughout the year.

“One of the unexpected positives to emerge from the challenges of lockdown has been the surge in interest in the countryside, nature and buying fresh produce, and we have seen a higher following than ever on our LOFS digital channels,” said LOFS manager Annabel Shackleton. “This is the perfect moment to capture the public’s curiosity and build our outreach to benefit the whole industry.”

While awaiting clarity on Covid regulations on public gatherings and events, Shackleton is urging farmers to start thinking about how they can host visitors on-farm in June, which will be the 15th anniversary LEAF Open Farm Sunday.

“As visitor numbers for events may be limited, we would love to see a greater number of farms opening their gates but to smaller groups, so that social-distancing can be followed. We’re encouraging host farmers to think about how to maximise outdoor spaces: it could be a farm walk, a scavenger hunt or a short show-and-tell in the yard. It may also be an opportunity to collaborate with other food producers to provide a place for people to buy and try new local foods,' she said.

“Farmers have some important topical messages to share about quality food production, caring for the countryside, plus the economic and environmental benefits of buying British – and we want to help facilitate these conversations.”

The library of free LOFS resources and online workshops planned for March will help to make hosting easier and facilitate ideas sharing between the network of experienced and new hosts. Plus, a free, easy-to-use ticketing service is available so host farmers can manage visitor numbers and contact visitors if there are any changes in plans, said Shackleton.

“While not essential, this is a good year for host farmers to use the ticketing service so they can keep in contact with visitors if plans need to change, but equally to set expectations and encourage them to adhere to farm and Covid-safe regulations. It also allows hosts to limit visitors per hour or per day to help them to manage their event more easily.”

The series of virtual farm visits online is designed to extend the opportunities for more people to connect with farming throughout the year and for more farmers to participate.

Two LEAF Online Farm Sunday events, on Sunday 28 March and Sunday 26 September, will each include an afternoon of live virtual farm tours on Facebook @LEAFOpenFarmSunday, featuring a range of different farms spanning the country and shining a spotlight on all farming sectors.

In addition, monthly farm visits broadcast live on Facebook will feature a different farm on the first Sunday of each month, starting on 7 February, adding to the kaleidoscope of farming stories shared with the public.

All these activities will promote a greater understanding of the different aspects of agriculture, such as productive soils, animal welfare, clean water and air, public access and enhancing biodiversity.

These on-farm and online events are at the heart of the new LEAF Open Farm Sunday three-year strategy to ensure a continued positive impact on the whole farming industry and enriching the understanding of wider society to act as global citizens supporting climate positive farming and food production.

The main social media channels used across the campaign will be Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and LOFS is asking farmers to post and share on these days using the hashtag #LOFS21 to create a diverse, colourful and authentic picture of UK farming for the public.

To find out more and to register to host LEAF Open Farm Sunday in June 2021, see www.farmsunday.org.