There's a growing trend for seeking out farm experiences in our everyday lives. We're ordering farm-fresh vegetable boxes, we're visiting farm parks and shops, and tuning in to programmes such as Countryfile and Lambing Live. So it's no surprise that VisitEngland figures for 2014 show farms were the fastest-growing visitor attraction category, with tourist numbers up 10 per cent in a year.
As our appetite grows for everything outdoorsy, there is no better place to connect with how food is produced than at a working farm. Better still, stay on one during the bountiful autumn months to get a really good feel for the harvest season. Farm Stay UK is a good starting point. We are a not-for-profit co-operative of farmers, offering around a 1,000 different farm accommodation options throughout the country.
With so many fluctuating factors in farming, the opportunity for farmers to use the asset of their land has never been greater. Over the years had it not been for the opportunity to offer B&B, self-catering, and more recently "glamping", many farmers, especially tenant farmers, would have needed to leave their land. Fundamentally, tourism helps the farms become sustainable, and helps protect the land for future generations to enjoy.
As the warm weather starts to turn, now is a good time to embrace what the British countryside has to offer. As well as stunning autumn mists and an excuse to light the fire, hedgerows are laden with blackberries, orchards with apples and plums, and fields and forests hide delicious edible fungi.
To celebrate British Food Fortnight – which runs until 4 October – and this year's harvest, we are shouting even louder about what our farm stays can offer with our Forage on a Farm campaign. There are opportunities such as coastal foraging from a converted barn in Cornwall, a farm with its own mushroom school in Scotland, and staying on a hop garden and vineyard in Kent.
Aside from foraging, what child doesn't love the chance to get up close to farm animals, ride in a tractor, or collect eggs from hens? All of these experiences are readily available at farms across the country. And there is plenty for grown-ups in the autumn too, with the chance to disengage from everyday life, enjoy low slung sunsets over meadows, sip a local cider and breathe in lots of fresh air. The only downside will be that your usual boiled egg and soldiers will never taste as good again after tucking into eggs collected from the hen house that very morning.
The standard of farm accommodation has come a long way too – you can now choose to wake up in a farmhouse B&B or cook your own bacon in a self-catering cottage or barn. For those who want to really embrace the rural settings, there are shepherd's huts and yurts.
Wherever you choose to stay, the countryside is waiting to give you a big abundant welcome this autumn. And the activity and fresh air that life on the farm brings will ensure a great night's sleep. Cockerel allowing of course ...
Andy Woodward is CEO of Farm Stay UK (farmstay.co.uk)Reuse content