A lot of people ask me why I chose to offer educational visits on my farm, was it as a means of diversification, did I spot a gap in the market, was I passionate about rural education, did I think I possessed the skills needed or was I just bored? The honest answer is yes… to all of them!
Truthfully, offering educational visits on your farm or smallholding is no easy feat, especially when children are involved and in my case particularly, when parents leave their children on the farm. There is a huge amount of paperwork, health and safety considerations and a few qualifications/checks that you’ll need under your belt before starting up. With that all considered however, the educational side of my business was the push behind starting Muddy Boots and it is the main thing that fuels my passion to get up every morning, even if it is to dag a sheep or clean out the chicken sheds and if you find your passion in life you just have to do all you can to achieve it.
I also have a huge interest in encouraging others into the world of farming and for those already enjoying the farming life, to use their farms for educational purposes or simply as a window into farming – whether that be opening for Open Farm Sunday once a year, or offering year round visits.
To promote the idea of open your farm for educational visits, I thought it may be beneficial to list the reasons why I decided to open my farm to 5 to 12 year old children for hands-on sessions with me and my animals.
- To Reduce My Financial Reliance on Produce
Once I had decided to start my own smallholding, I knew that my free-range produce on such a small scale would not produce enough income alone for it to be financially viable for me. Alongside running the farm, I still work 3-4 days a week for a local farmer in his office, managing his arable farm and holiday let business, however I knew that this alone would not bridge the gap between going from a full-time income to part-time with the expense of lots of animals and a business to build and run. I knew that to make my smallholding successful I would have to diversify and having worked in the educational department for a local wildlife trust the answer came to me. I would use my working smallholding to educate others, I just had to work out how…
- To Get Children Outside
It was my time working in schools throughout Essex, with the Wildlife Trust, that really opened my eyes to the amount of time children were spending sitting indoors participating in sedentary activities such as playing computer games and watching TV. I spent months travelling around the schools, teaching the children about nature and how to encourage wildlife, only to realise that the reason children are so disconnected with the outdoors is because they weren’t spending any time in it. Rather than bang on about ‘kids these days’ and how ‘my generation was different’, I wanted to put my words into action and create a business that encouraged children to leave their homes and understand what was going on around them. This has had a huge impact on the type of activities I offer at the farm and as a result we often cover topics such as protecting wildlife and creating habitats in my sessions.
- To Relay the Farm to Fork Message
The more time I spend farming and talking to people from outside of the farming community, the more I realise how important this business goal of mine is. Not coming from a farming family myself, my knowledge of the industry at the start was pretty basic and it is still far from expert level, however I did know the basics of where my food came from and how basic food chains and food production worked. From talking to the children, and even quite a few of the parents, it seems that somewhere along the way this connection has been lost and what I had originally considered as basic knowledge, was not trickling down to all members of the public. In recent months, I have been extremely impressed at initiatives being run in schools and by farmers (such as Facetime a Farmer), which is helping the public to become much more aware of such facts. I still think we have a long way to go however and for this reason most of my sessions include topics on how to live more sustainably, how to check where your food comes from and how an animal in a field turns into a meal on your plate.
- To Fill a Gap in the Market
When I came up with the idea of Muddy Boots Farm, a working smallholding that offered hands-on educational sessions to children, I had no idea what a revelation it would be. I honestly thought that because of the obvious demand for such a business, that there would be hundreds of us out there but in reality there a very, very few. It wasn’t until I started to promote my farm, shortly before I opened, that I realised I had found a gap in the market. People on social media and local and national press were contacting me intrigued by what I was offering from my smallholding. It came as a complete shock and now, having just recovered from my first year in action, I am having to take a step back and realise what a whirlwind it has been. The only reason it created such a stir was because there are so few farms out there who really offer the full farm experience. Petting farms hold their place and are certainly beneficial for members of the public to come into contact with livestock, but what I really want to see are more farms encouraging the next generation to get their hands dirty and really understand what farming is, which will perhaps mean they may even want to work in the industry one day!
I know educational visits are not everyone’s cup of tea and I am not going to lie and say it is a super easy way to make a tonne of cash because it is not. If you are interested however it is not unfeasible and it is a great way to diversify your business. It is also a fantastic way to educate the wider public and encourage new talent into the industry, while improving the image of British farming, so please do consider it.
Educational visits may not be practical for everyone, I understand that, but spreading the message about what we do, how we do it and why we do it can be as simple as writing a blog, creating a website or setting up a social media account. If you want to help me spread the word about backing British farming and educating the young and old on what goes on in the world of farming then please take a step in connecting with the general public, it can only benefit our industry and thus benefit your business.