A farming experience

Wendy Gallagher, project manager of Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend, discusses how the initiative is vital to reconnecting the public with agriculture.

Wendy Gallagher, BOIOFW project manager pictured with Frank Mitchell,
during the live U105 Broadcast at the UFU Balmoral stand.
Wendy Gallagher, BOIOFW project manager pictured with Frank Mitchell, during the live U105 Broadcast at the UFU Balmoral stand.

Led by the Ulster Farmers’ Union since 2012, and currently sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK, Asda, NFU Mutual, Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), Moy Park, Fibrus and Irish Farmers’ Journal, the free Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend (BOIOFW) has highlighted working farms particularly to those from a non-farming background. This event is vital in helping the general public and schools connect with our local farming community.

This year we are delighted to be back LIVE on farms for the first time since 2019. 18 farms across all counties in Northern Ireland (NI) will be open to schools on Friday 17 June and the public on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June 2022. Throughout this

year’s event, we will focus on showcasing the outstanding contribution our farm families make in producing the quality food we so often take for granted and shine a light on key themes including Women in Agriculture, environmental issues and the

Representatives from the BOIOFW Steering Group collecting the Farming Life award for ‘Promotional Agricultural Initiative’.

farm to fork story.

All sectors within the agri-industry are included in BOIOFW this year including arable, fruit, vegetable, dairy, beef, sheep, pigs, equine and poultry.

Open Farm Weekend objectives

Objectives of this event include; raising the public’s awareness of the story behind our food and introduce them to the local supply chain; providing farmers with the skills and resources to engage with their local community; reconnect the public to the local food supply chain and provide the unique opportunity to meet working farmers who do not normally open their farms; reconnect the public with the countryside and introduce them to those who shape and care for it; and to showcase NI ‘food tourism’ potential.

Schools’ day

The first day (Friday) is always dedicated to hosting school children and our annual BOIOFW schools’ competition. The schools’ competition offers an opportunity for teachers and parents to start the discussion in their homes and classrooms about the importance of food and farming in NI.

This is open to playgroups, nursery, primary, and special schools throughout NI, with each year’s theme relating to the UFU and Agri Aware’s food and farming education resource “Dig in!”, which encourages pupils to learn more about food, farming, and the countryside and educate children on the ‘farm to fork’ story. We’re thrilled with the response to our schools competition this year with over 4,000 fantastic competition entries received.

Promotional Agricultural Initiative

2021 saw BOIOFW celebrating its tenth year and we were delighted to end the year by winning the Farming Life award for ‘Promotional Agricultural Initiative’.

Challenges

In 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions, our Steering Group had to make the difficult decision to cancel plans to run live events and instead create ‘Bank of Ireland Virtual Farm Weekend’.

Advancements in technology allowed our virtual events to reach a wider audience than ever before. Digital channels used were Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a new BOIOFW YouTube channel. Live streaming was also delivered through our OpenFarmWeekend.com website for those who did not have access to social media.

A major win over the three days of our virtual events in 2020 and 2021, was our online reach on social media channels of over 200,000 - a fantastic achievement!

The online views across our social media channels and website showed the appetite for a greater understanding of local farming both in NI and beyond.

Although visitors could not physically attend farms, the online activities shown still gave the public the chance to connect to our farms. Viewers were able to view films from all participating farms showcasing specific farm activities such as robotic milking, potato/vegetable/apple growing and harvesting, caring for different animals and breeds/pedigree herds, regenerative agriculture, environmental and biodiversity projects, grassland and arable crop management, wildlife protection, silage cutting and farm to fork journeys.

2022 event

Due to the successful reach and engagement with our virtual aspects over the past two years, we will incorporate new online footage and activities into our live event in 2022 also, to ensure we continue to cater for our new digital audience.

Footage will cover aspects such as connecting individual farms with a school or class within a school and online, along with a special programme of live activities broadcast online on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 June. These will include introducing schools competition themes and announcing winners live on day, farm talks and tours, sheep shearing, CAFRE staff talks and demonstrations and lots more!

Host farmers

We are indebted to our host farmers who are so willing and enthusiastic to open their gates and welcome visitors back. Our farms have been busy planning a diverse range of activities for visitors of all ages to enjoy! We welcomed over 16,000 visitors to our farms in 2019 and would ask you all to grab your wellies and support our NI farming community as we celebrate being ‘back on farms’.

More than ever farmers need to be telling their story. BOIOFW allows us to reach out to the non-farming community to promote the vital work of farmers across NI. It is vital that we continue to support, showcase and celebrate this sector which is supplying traceable and affordable food produced to world-leading animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards.

Project manager

I am delighted to be involved as project manager for this fantastic initiative and greatly enjoy working with such an inspiring team of people to bring this event to the public and to share our farming stories. A huge thanks to everyone involved with BOIOFW, we’re looking forward to seeing you out and about on farms in June!

When you’re planning your farm visits during BOIOFW on Saturday 18 or Sunday 19 June, there is now a handy ‘PLAN YOUR VISIT’ button on the Open Farm Weekend website (https://openfarmweekend.com) with opening times. It is advisable to check this before you leave to avoid disappointment!

To find out more!

Facebook: @OpenFarmWeekend

Twitter: @BOIopenfarm

Instagram: Open Farm Weekend

YouTube: Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend