Opinion: Urban Kiwis are interested in farming - they just need somewhere to see it in action. With that in mind, Daniel Eb, the man behind Open Farms, is encouraging farmers to be brave, open up their gates, and make farming relevant again.
In the very first Open Farms market research panel, a Kiwi mum told us something that stuck.
"I need to take my kids back to the source."
She was talking about a sense of loss of the natural way of life. A yearning for realness, to get some dirt under the fingernails and reconnect with the places where nature and people meet – our farms.
We built one half of Open Farms – an annual nationwide open farm day – on this idea. The other half we built on a rural problem.
An evergreen issue that headlined most agri-conferences and more than a few rural radio hours - the need to "tell the farming story" and make farming relevant again for urban Kiwis.
On launch, the Open Farms website hummed. Our facebook ads got clicks. It was immediately clear that the urban message was landing. Kiwi families signed up in the thousands to get closer to farming - but we had few places to send them.
In the weeks leading up to our 2020 inaugural open farm day, we called, spammed and pleaded our way to 45 open days. The project exists thanks to these first farmers.
Having set the template and with some runs on the board, we thought this year would be different.
We reasoned that the project had delivered results. 3,500 Kiwis had passed through farm gates around the country and our post-event research clearly showed a shift in perceptions and a two-way feeling of connectedness.
In year two and across every metric we measure, visitor enthusiasm exceeds our expectations. It also exceeds the number of farms we have to send them to.
For all the talk of sharing the farming story, something is holding our farmers back.
Farmer feedback generally falls into two categories. There are the functional things, like date clashes. Then there's a sense that opening up and connecting with urban Kiwis, isn't a priority when there's already too much to do.
We can't do much about the functional stuff. But we can make the case that sharing the farming experience with citizens and customers deserves a spot on the to-do list.
That connecting with people on the other side of your supply chain is the foundation for feeling proud about being a farmer and protecting your reputation.
Let's start with pride.
As a farmer, the pride you take in working the land shouldn't just come from your economic contribution, or even feeding the nation. In an increasingly scary world, the work you do is a source of hope for the rest of us.
Our whole culture is turning back towards the values of life on the land.
Many are rejecting the sugar-high consumerism of the last few decades and increasingly see biology as our bulwark against environmental collapse.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview Daniel Eb about Open Farms on The Country below:
This culture-change looks like kids protesting in the streets for a liveable future, our rejection of the ideals of Wall Street and Silicon Valley and brands tripping over each other to greenwash.
People are increasingly seeing farming as the antithesis of everything that our pre-packaged, processed, on-demand, traffic-jammed, anxious, algorithmic urban lives have become.
Now more than ever, our farmers connect us back to the land and are the protectors of "the source" - a way of life that many people feel like they've lost. Ahead of their own challenges and change, I think it's important for every farmer to hear, and take pride from this.
I learned an excellent lesson about managing reputation when I first started in PR – "no comment" gives others the space to comment for you.
It encourages us to be transparent, especially when that's a bit scary, or else risk others telling our story for us. It's a reminder that most people aren't looking for perfection - they're looking for the truth.
This is particularly relevant for food, something that's fundamental to our health, culture and identity.
With food trends changing fast, "natural" producer stories are best shared through genuine experience - "dirt under the fingernails" style – for the simple reason that your new competitors can't do the same.
In today's marketplace, your story - imperfect as you think it may be - is your armour.
We built Open Farms to help farmers connect with New Zealanders.
We're in it for the long-haul, and see this work as critical for everything from social-licence, to global reputation and farming pride.
Through marketing, planning tools and personal support, it's our job to get townies off the tar and be there for farmers who share that vision.
Farmers like Murray King from Nelson, a host who needs fewer words to make this pitch than I do.
"Be brave. Most people are genuinely interested."
• Daniel Eb a communications specialist with a love for the land. He's also the man behind the Open Farms initiative. Find out more about Open Farms here.