Farming for the Future
PUBLISHED: 10:23 03 January 2017
With each generation, it seems that children are becoming increasingly distanced from the countryside and an understanding of where their food comes from, but an Essex charity is working hard to narrow the gap by getting them on local farms
Those who call our county’s beautiful countryside home would be shocked to know that more than one in three children have never heard a cow ‘moo’ or a sheep go ‘baa’, other than on TV.
The findings come from a Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) study of 1,000 five to 11 year olds, which also reported that 28% have no idea that carrots grow underground and 5% believe strawberries grow inside the fridge.
While many may initially laugh at the children’s shocking lack of knowledge, the disconnect between the public, food and farming is a real concern, especially as agriculture is fighting for its survival with Brexit negotiations certain to signal seismic changes within the industry. At this time it is vital that the British public understands the role farmers play in feeding the nation and how that food is produced – as well as the often undervalued role they play in the care of our fabulous countryside.
It is too simplistic an argument to suggest the children’s ignorance is simply down to lack of interest. Far from exhibiting stubborn resistance to learning what’s beyond their familiar urban environment, they are often confined within it. Many are simply victims of circumstance, living in areas of high deprivation in family groups unable to afford trips into the countryside and attending schools where teachers do not have the available knowledge or time to bridge the gap between metropolitan and rural.
For this reason, Essex-based national educational charity, The Country Trust, works with primary schools in urban and other areas of high deprivation, bringing the working countryside alive for 25,000 children every year. Established in 1978, the trust is based in Chelmsford, but has hundreds of volunteer farmers and landowners from all across England and North Wales welcoming disadvantaged young children from all backgrounds and faiths onto their farms each year.
‘We help disadvantaged children to learn and grow through day visits to real working farms, residential visits to the countryside and year-long programmes exploring every aspect of growing, cooking and even selling food,’ explains Claire Marmion, the trust’s fundraising manager.
‘Our Farm Discovery programme takes children, often from urban areas, out to real working farms to meet the farmer, learn where food comes from, see farm animals up close, learn about the machinery and technology on a farm, have a go at activities such as grinding wheat and enjoy open spaces.
‘A lot of these children come from areas or schools where they don’t have any green space and their parents don’t always have the means to take them on trips out. The visits really inspire their imagination. Their confidence increases, they experience a sense of freedom perhaps for the first time, and they have a renewed interest in the world around them. With new vocabulary and a new enthusiasm for learning, recent evaluation of our programmes shows many will do better in the classroom too.
‘It’s also important that the children get the chance to be children. They get to go pond dipping and on bug hunts, but very often their favourite part of the day is just running in fields and meadows. I’ve got a five year old and he spends his life on his bike, running around with his mates and climbing trees, but to think other children don’t ordinarily have the same opportunity is shocking.’
The Country Trust has recently been given a boost following the decision of the CLA Charitable Trust to award a grant of almost £3,000 so that the reach of the Farm Discovery programme can be extended. This means more farmers and landowners are urgently needed as hosts, especially in Essex where there is a real need for more help getting children into the countryside.
‘Farm Discovery is at the heart of everything we do and is what the CLA’s grant will help with,’ continues Claire. ‘We are getting more and more demand for our work in deprived urban areas. We are also becoming more aware of poverty in coastal towns, so we’re looking to expand our programme and the number of hosts.
‘There are a lot of schools in Essex with an above average number of children from low-income families who just don’t get the opportunity to see the countryside close-up. Financial help such as the grant from the CLA will help us to expand our programme and the number of farm hosts we work with.’
If you’re a farmer and landowner concerned by the worrying statistic that one in three children don’t know pork comes from pigs, or want to ensure that more than 20% understand broccoli grows on a plant, then you’re very likely to be exactly the kind of person The Country Trust is looking for.
Chelmsford’s Christy Willett has been welcoming local primary school children on to her arable farm for many years, but now also hosts visits for inner-city London schools through The Country Trust.
‘It is hugely rewarding welcoming children to our farm to be touched by their raw energy and zest for life,’ Christy enthuses. ‘There’s nothing better than watching the light bulb moment when a child connects something we are doing to their food. For example, the simple action of a child using a hand mill to grind wheat into flour. We take our surroundings for granted most of the time. When children visit we are reminded of the importance of the countryside and often reflect that our work with schools is some of the best work we do.’
Find out more
To find out more about The Country Trust and how to get involved, or to make a donation, contact Claire Marmion on 01245 608363 or visit: www.countrytrust.org.uk
Get in touch
To find out more about the County Land & Business Association (CLA) visit www.cla.org.uk