I’ve been advertising Open Farm Sunday in the Baby Routes calendar for a few years now. It’s such a great idea and a perfect day out for families, providing a fun insight into the life and work of the people who put food on our tables and are also a chief custodian of British countryside . According to a report by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), the organisation that head up Open Farm Sunday, one third of children have never heard a cow moo or sheep baa up close. One in four children do not know the names for baby cows, sheep and pigs and one in give do not know where bacon comes from. On Sunday we headed off to one of the local participating farms to see for ourselves what Open Farm Sunday is all about and to make sure that our kids do not become part of those worrying statistics.
Somehow we managed to arrive twenty minutes before the Open Farm Sunday event at White Pond started. Parking up we made it onto the first tractor and trailer ride. We didn’t realise how lucky we were until seeing the fully laden trailers heading out later on – definitely worth arriving early. There was me imagining the tractor rides to be a quick 2 minute jaunt up for the kids up and down a track.Oh no! This was a fifty minute tour of the fields accompanied by detailed commentary and fantastic views, all whilst perched on the top of large straw bales in the back of the trailer. It was definitely the best tractor ride I’ve ever been on!
White Pond Farm, near Stonor, is a family run farm in the heart of the beautiful Chiltern countryside. The current family have been farming there since 1937 and whilst the farming is mixed, they, like so many other farming families have suffered hard times and had to abandon their original milking cow herd when they were only receiving 20p per litre for the milk. These days White Pond farm focuses on a mixture of crops and rearing livestock for meat – Waitrose to be specific! The farm, like so many others, has also tried to diversify. You can spot the farm in several films and adverts, including James Bond movies, several Midsomer Murders episodes! Idyllic holiday cottages on the farm also mean that families can experience the beauty of the local landscape for themselves. What a perfect spot for a holiday – if I didn’t already live in the area I’d be there like a shot.
Our tractor ride introduced us to the crops being grown and most useful of all, the quantity of produce that results from each m2 of each crop. In these parts of the world a m2 of barley will get you eight bottles of beer whilst the same amount of wheat will produce one loaf of bread. It’s a tough call but I think most of us were trying to get off at barley stop…
It was good to see that White Pond Farm are leaving meadow margins to many of their fields. They were mainly full of cow parsley when we visited but given some time hopefully a large diversity of country flowers will take over these set aside areas. The White Pond are also underplanting some of their crops with red clover. As well as helping the environment the clover also encourages bees and pollinators, provides haylage and fixes nitrogren in the ground. It does though normally result in lower crop yields – a major factor in the reduction in traditional under-planting as pressures on farming increased towards the end of twentieth century.
For Roo and Beth the highlight of the ride was going through the field of young cattle – all between eleven and seventeen months old. Roo couldn’t believe these frisky, curious creatures were about the same age as her baby sister. I think they made us all laugh when they galloped down the hill after our trailer. It was great to see the working dogs at work keeping the cows back whilst our tractor went through the gate at the bottom of the field. I wonder if the cows were still galloping at the end of the day?
Back in the farmyard there was plenty to see. It was great to get up close to the huge machinery we so often see out in the fields. After admiring the combine harvester the girls gravitated towards the chickens and the cheeky piglets. Roo got to check out the view from a tractor cab first hand and both of them enjoyed clambering over the straw bales. It reminded me of playing with French farm children on holiday as a child – we used to climb up a ladder to the top of the bales in a hay barn and then swing down on a rope. No doubt health and safety would have a fit but I wish that all children could have access to such a great playground. Roo is still sporting the war wounds of attempting multiple climbs of the straw bales in a skirt. A girl after my own heart.
Just as the kids were crowding round the piglets, so their parents were crowding round the beer and beef burger barn in the hope of sampling some farm produce. We took an impromptu picnic in the paddock before heading home. It’s hard to make good food taste any better than when eaten in nature on a perfect summer day. What a way to celebrate reaching the end of Week One of our 30 Days Wild Challenge!
Open Farm Sunday is run annually in June. If you’ve not been before then put next year’s event in the diary now!