Since the COVID pandemic, hundreds of farmers have set up caravan and campsites in response to the increasing popularity of staycations as quick and easy diversification projects.
This is fuelling a new-found interest in farming and how food is produced, according to Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider.
He said that during the pandemic, “a lot of people rediscovered the countryside, or discovered it for the first time, as a place to holiday as they could not go abroad”.
“And when surrounded by farm animals and experiencing a working farm first-hand, most people cannot help but want to find out more about it.”
“Thousands of positive reviews in the last year specifically mentioned how much they enjoyed being on a farm.”
“What we are now finding is people are booking to go back to farm sites year after year because they are fascinated by what goes on there and how food is produced.”
“When they return to their everyday lives, they tell their friends about what they have learned.”
“It is great for farmers as it is sparking a real interest in what they do, and for consumers who have the opportunity to learn about food production while enjoying the chance to relax in beautiful surroundings.”
“We are expecting to see this trend continue throughout 2023 as more people spend their summer holidays exploring working farms across the UK.”
Dave Gibson, who farms at Beltonville Farm, between Buxton and Bakewell in Derbyshire, agreed.
Until two years ago, Dave kept a dairy herd but now finishes beef and sheep youngstock for prime markets, as well as running a large campsite of more than 100 tent pitches and 20 campervan pitches.
He said he was astonished at how little the general public knows about food and farming, and camping was “a great way to help educate them”.
He said: “It is a great opportunity. Some people who come to the farm have never even seen a farm animal before.”
“Some are so naïve, they do not know milk comes from cows. They think it comes to the supermarket.”
“They are so disconnected from where their food comes from, and farmers need to help educate them.”
“The children are always interested. We have goats, hens, horses, sheep and cows, and they love it. They love the tractors too.”
Dave, who also secures bookings via Pitchup.com, had been running a small campsite for around 15 years but expanded it to its current size during the COVID pandemic.
However, his history in educating people about farming life stretches much further back – more than 40 years – to when school parties would stay at a local youth hostel and visit his dairy farm.
“The first lot we had visit us was when I was 18. I am 60 now,” he said.
“We showed them how we got the milk from the cow and into the tank. Most of them had never seen anything like it before.”
John Stanyer, who farms at Wallace Lane Farm, Wigton, said a lot of people go to stay on a working farm with a romantic view of what farm life is like.
But he added they often come away from his farm – a hill farm in west Cumbria where he raises rare breed sheep and free-range chickens – with a better understanding of the stark challenges some farmers face.
John said: “It is certainly true that staying on a farm campsite can teach people about farming.”
“Around here, we have people making cheese, organic milk producers, free-range poultry units, cattle, sheep, so there are lots for people to see and learn about.”
“They love to see it, to see us work with them and get involved in any way they can.”
“I think many visitors are surprised by the type of things we do to make a living and also by the high standards of animal welfare. A lot of people comment on that.”
Being in Cumbria, another aspect of farming life that really fascinates visitors is working sheepdogs.
John said they are “well” catered for as many trials are held in the area and demonstrations are put on at local country shows.
“We even have a world champion trainer who lives nearby,” John said.
“People often stay with us if they are coming to train with him or to buy a dog,” he concluded.
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