Open farms and shows are the best way to tell farming’s story

11 Jun 2018

The summer show season has started and it gives us one of the best opportunities to tell Scotland’s food and farming story. I’ve no idea how many members of the public attend all of our regional and local shows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close to one million people, particularly when you think that the Royal Highland Show attracts close to 200,000 people on its own.

Closer to home, the Turriff Show welcomes between 25,000-30,000 and is the largest two-day show in Scotland. The first show was held on 26 July 1864, and historically, it was a one-day event that used to coincide with the local mart day – a Tuesday.

The organisation that runs the show is the Turriff District Agriculture Association (TDAA), a membership organisation made up of around 900 members from across Aberdeenshire and management committee, who all volunteer their time to organise the show, is made up of around 70 people.

My team and I have just started working with the show, and I’ve been staggered at how much the event does. There are over 1,554 exhibition classes, the prize monies total £88,000 and the committee awards 320 trophies.

The classes range from 98 cattle categories, including the Scottish National Simmental Show this year, 105 sheep classes, 266 for rabbits and 134 for poultry and eggs. There are also a large number of classic vehicle and tractor categories and an industrial section that welcomes entries from the likes of knitters, jam makers and honey producers.

The thing that I love about the show is that it’s a real celebration of our region, what we produce and our heritage. It also gives members of the public the chance to get up close and personal with farming, food and animals, and to talk about the things that interest them.

For farmers, some of the questions that the public asks can be tricky to answer – why does a bull have a nose ring, why some pigs live inside all the time and why dairy calves are taken from their mothers so soon after birth.

We’ve been lucky enough to work with LEAF, the organisers of Open Farm Sunday, in developing a toolkit to help avoid these potential topic minefields.

In talking to farmers who regularly open their farm gates, they say that the most important points to remember are that: people have asked the questions because they are interested – they aren’t trying to trip you up; they say it’s important to be honest and think about the lives of your audience and what will resonate with them – for example, if they are gardeners they will understand why spraying for pests and diseases might be necessary; and finally, don’t be defensive.

We all know people who would welcome the insight into the world of food, farming and our local heritage, so encourage them to come along to either their local show or to Open Farm Sunday which runs in June every year. And if as a farmer you need to brush up on how you answer tricky questions, check out the toolkit for farmers on the Open Farm Sunday website.

Jane Craigie is a Chartered Marketer with over 25 years’ experience in marketing within the agri-food sector. She is a member of the executive board of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the council of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists. Jane is a graduate of the IAgrM and Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programmes, is a Windsor Leadership Alumna and a Waitangi Scholar.