NFU Sugar Board chair welcomes 100,000th visitor for Open Farm Sunday

14 June 2024

Michael Sly at park farm

Photograph: NFU Sugar Board chair Michael Sly welcomes visitors to his farm

More than 225 farms across the country opened their gates for LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday, with NFU Sugar Board chair and regular Open Farm Sunday host, Michael Sly, welcoming his 100,000th visitor this year.

“This year was our seventeenth open farm and vintage weekend, where we welcomed 12,237 visitors and, more importantly, our 100,000th visitor from when we started in 2006,” said Michael.

“Our 100,000th visitor, Molly, along with her parents, was surprised and thrilled to receive a family hamper, which contained many products made from what we produce locally. But more importantly for Molly, a toy forage harvester and a model tractor, along with NFU activity books and pencils.”

Humble beginnings

From humble beginnings in the front of the grain store and a farm tour in the Land Rover, Michael reflects on how his Open Farm Sunday event has grown over the years.

“We started with a handful of visitors in 2006 when I was county chair of Cambridgeshire, and we built on from there.

“In 2009 we welcomed the Peterborough Farm Preservation Society to expand the event to two days over the weekend. We sadly missed 2020 and 2021 due to Covid restrictions but bounced back in 2022.

It has truly become a community event linking so many together and supporting local charities and groups.”

NFU Sugar Board chair Michael Sly

“We offer a farm safari tour, which encompasses the crops grown, the environmental stewardship and wildlife in the Fens, with machinery old and new strategically placed along the route as talking points for the stewards.

“This year we conveyed 4,676 passengers over the weekend. Tours start when we open and don’t finish until the last person has boarded, to save any disappointed children or parents!”

A community event

Popular activities include the small livestock zone, the sheep show, and a ‘pick your own new potatoes’ patch which raises funds for the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

There are activities for all the family in the farmers’ market, community barn and kids’ zone.

Among the stands from local organisations, visitors tried burger and butter making, and learned about the benefits of pulses, cereals, fenland soils, English mustard and sugar.

“A favourite is our Red Tractor train that has a variety of seeds, which leads to messy play,” says Michael.

Michael continues to thank everyone who makes the event possible: “We could not put this event on without the tremendous support of local farmers, the Newborough YFC manning the car parks, the allied trades who exhibit and provide machinery, and the generosity of some local sponsors.

“It has truly become a community event linking so many together and supporting local charities and groups. Entry and parking is free so visitors can enjoy a free family day out and hopefully take something positive away about farming, their food, our environment and community.”

Open gates lead to open minds

Annabel Shackleton, LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday Manager, expressed her thanks to everyone who opened their gates and opened visitors’ minds to the incredible story behind the journey our food takes from field to fork: “The feedback we’ve received has been phenomenal.

“People have a healthy appetite to learn more about what farmers do in terms of land management, nature protection, environmental stewardship and food production. The most powerful voices to share their knowledge and experiences are those of farmers themselves and this year’s Open Farm Sunday activities have proved just that.”

Next year’s Open Farm Sunday will take place on 8 June 2025.

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