One year on from the launch of its innovative and award-winning MyFarm  project, the National Trust is dropping the £30 sign-up fee  in a bid to widen its success and inspire even more people to engage with farming and food.
The experiment – based at the Trust’s 1,450 acre Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire – was launched last May to encourage people to learn about day-to-day farm life and get a better understanding of where their food comes from.
The virtual farmers are able to view day-to-day farm activities via blogs from the farm team, videos and live webcams. Significantly they can also influence what happens on the farm by voting on key decisions usually made by the farmer.
As the project moves into year two, the team behind the project are seeking to increase the number of people who take part in MyFarm, and cover a wider range of food topics. (See below for the top 10 highs and lows of farm life from the first 12 months).
Farm Manager Richard Morris said: “We’ve learnt a lot from our 5,000-strong audience over the last 12 months, especially how interested people are in following and finding out about the day-to-day running of the farm.
“The experiment has helped us deepen people’s understanding of the challenges faced by farmers in the wider market place including the European and World markets, and enabled those involved to comment on a wide range of farming issues.
“It has also taught us more about what people think and feel about farming and food production. People are interested in the environmental impacts food production has; the difference between organic and conventional farming and how these things work on the ground.
“Bringing farmers and consumers together to explore issues facing all of us is one of our main aims and this is the first step in broadening that discussion.
“It’s been the animal stories that have really captured the public’s hearts — both births and deaths. MyFarmers have also loved getting to know the farm team, the rare breed animals kept at Wimpole and the monthly votes  which explore one particular aspect of farming in more depth, with the majority vote then carried out on the farm.”
The Trust is the country’s biggest farmer and through MyFarm hopes to help people understand the issues facing farming today, the numerous and daily decisions farmers have to make, as well as the joy and the heartache which is part and parcel of farm life.
As part of the changes the Trust will also now host the experiment on its own website rather than the current microsite. It will also make broader use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with users and to encourage further discussion on food and farming issues .
Founding Farmers — those who joined in the first year — will be invited to continue as ambassadors on these platforms to encourage more people to join in; sharing the journeys they have been on over the last 12 months.
MyFarm Project Manager Andrew Cock-Starkey added: “Our members come from all over the world as well as from the UK and after a successful first year we believe we’ve established a clear demand for this kind of learning. Now we want to reach even more people and build a broader understanding of farming.
“A personal highlight from the first 12 months is RamCam — when we attached a webcam to the horn of a ram as he went out to tup 30 ewes. That was MyFarm in a nutshell; fun but interesting, educational and different.
“Waiving the membership fee will, we hope, help us reach a much wider audience, as will ensuring we have appealing content for users of different ages across various platforms.”
Deputy President of the National Farmers’ Union Meurig Raymond said: “This project is an effective and fun way of engaging people in farming and the hard work and skill that goes into producing food for their table. With more and more people using social media to communicate, share views and influence decisions MyFarm also tackles some of the more serious issues and involves its supporters in the day-to-day running of a real-life farm.”
The new website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/myfarm will go live on 14 May. The Facebook fan page is already live at http://www.facebook.com/myfarmnt and you can receive regular updates from MyFarm on twitter @MyFarmNT
To celebrate the birthday of MyFarm the team has created a special rendition of Happy Birthday. To view visit: http://www.my-farm.org.uk/happybirthday
Top 10 highs and lows of a year of farming at MyFarm
- Births – 350 lambs born in the recent lambing season, with many shown on LambCam. The birth of two litters of piglets and 11 new goats – all caught live on webcams.
- New arrivals – Peacland Paolo the Portland ram arrives on the farm to tup with 30 ewes. His exploits were captured on a unique 90 second video showing a ram’s eye view of him ‘meeting’ his new flock on RamCam.
- The sad death of Queenie the shire horse’s new foal
- Acquisition of 250 acres of additional conventional farmland to form part of the MyFarm experiment so that MyFarmers could learn about the differences between conventional and organic farming and the choices facing both
- Deciding to plant wheat (over barley and oats) in Pond Field – with the crop due to be harvested later this Summer
- Decision to buy 15 Oxford Down sheep
- Shaun the Sheep became MyFarm’s most famous member
- Voting to buy a rare breed Irish Moiled bull to mate with the 10 cows already living at the farm
- Deciding what type of hedge to plant and what for which reasons (ie to promote biodiversity, to control stock, or for biofuel) in Wild Barns field
- Deciding on which sausage recipe to use for a new range to go on sale at the farm shop
 The MyFarm experiment launched on 4 May 2011. Based at the National Trust’s own working farm, Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire, the farm comprises of 1,200 acres of organic and 250 acres of conventional farmland.
Farm Manager Richard Morris sets regular decisions for debate and to vote upon. Topics include crops, livestock and wider impacts. Majority rules and Richard then carries out the majority decision on the farm.
Farmers visiting the website will see daily behind-the-scenes insight into how the farm operates, the right to make decisions on the farm by voting regularly and a family ticket to visit the farm for a day.
The MyFarm web page and Facebook page will include video updates, webcams, live webchats, debates and comment and opinion from both well known farming experts and National Trust tenant farmers.
Since its launch MyFarm has won various awards including runner up in The Guardian’s Digital Innovation Awards 2012 for best digital campaign; Future 5 – The Big Idea 2011; PR Week Awards – Highly Commended, Not-for-Profit, Campaign of the Year.
 Current MyFarm members who signed up to the experiment at any time over the past 12 months prior to this announcement will be offered a refund proportionate to whatever membership is left to run.
 Vote topics so far have included what crops to grow, what type of wheat to plant, what type of bull to buy; and the majority vote in each instance has been carried out on the farm.
 The type of content new users can expect are daily updates from Wimpole, a range of videos and blogs, plus the opportunity to vote on some of the key farming decisions which will then be carried out on the farm by Farm Manager Richard Morris.