Meeting Halstead's thriving Young Farmers Club
PUBLISHED: 16:36 08 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:17 12 April 2019
Halstead is one of the county's most picturesque towns and lies within charming rural countryside, which makes it a prime location for a thriving Young Farmers Club. Petra Hornsby finds out more
The county of Essex is renowned for its many attributes. A great coastline with fantastic beaches, ancient woodlands, nature reserves, pretty market towns and a history that speaks of great industrial success are just a few of the highlights.
People might also have an opinion about the county through its depiction on ‘reality’ TV, its shopping malls and, in the south, its undeniable proximity to London and a sense of urban, commutable living.
Essex is in fact 72% rural, but its agriculture is not something that necessarily comes quickly to mind, a characteristic perhaps reserved for other counties such as Herefordshire or Lincolnshire.
However, Essex farms are busy producing grain, vegetables, sugar beet and seeds such as rape and linseed.
Some farms also have livestock and many dairy farms have diversified in tough economic times by providing services and products to attract new markets. The county also has several fantastic farm shops and producers are active in supporting local markets.
Last year, Writtle Agricultural College hosted the Essex Schools Food and Farming day, which was organised by the Essex Agricultural Society, and gave 3,000 youngsters the opportunity to learn more about the way food is produced and its journey from the farm to the table.
Open days like these also provide valuable insight into possible careers within agriculture and what it might be like to work on a modern farm.
Being from a farming family or already being a farm worker is not a primary requirement for one organisation that, although it has its roots firmly in the land, offers diversity, much of which benefits the whole community.
Young Farmers’ Clubs have been in existence since the first one formed in Devon in 1921 and it became a National Federation in 1932. Clubs were formed as far away as Australia and New Zealand and, by the time of the start of World War II, the Federation had 412 clubs and more than 15,000 members.
The initial aim was to provide education and guidance in growing, keeping livestock and poultry, beekeeping and gardens while being a ‘voluntary, self-governing and self-generating organisation’.
By the time the organisation celebrated its jubilee in 1982, membership was at its highest, having survived decades of change by nurturing many young people to serve their community, develop skills and to go on to represent the countryside and agriculture in the wider world, while enjoying a healthy social life too!
Halstead Young Farmers is typical of a modern Young Farmers club and, as one of the ten groups in the county, is keen to highlight, whenever possible, what they do and why they would welcome new members.
Chairman Ben Hopkins started his year as chair in October 2018 having been involved (excluding a break for university) with the club for six years.
He explains: ‘I am not from a farming background – I work with my family in property development – but I was introduced to Halstead Young Farmers by a friend and I enjoyed it from the start. When you live in a small village it can be hard to establish a group of friends and this group not only provided a social life but provided a social life with social purpose, which has made it even more enjoyable.’
The club currently has around 25 members and meets every Thursday at The Bell Inn in Castle Hedingham. ‘Every week we take part in some kind of activity such as a trip to a brewery, cocktail making, pub quiz and there are seasonal themes such as pumpkin carving and Burns Night.
We also organise taking part in regional competitions like public speaking, tug-of-war and sports including hockey and rugby. If successful, local groups can make it through to national finals and yes, there is quite a competitive spirit!’
Every year, the club takes part in the Essex Young Farmers’ Show, which this year is on May 19 at Boyton Hall, Chelmsford. The event attracts many thousands of visitors and all ten clubs work together to organise displays, supervise the many trade stands and take part in demonstrations promoting local agriculture, related businesses and countryside activities.
A key part of being a Young Farmer is to give something back to the community and every year each club will nominate a charity for which to raise funds.
Ben says: ‘Over the years, Young Farmers have had a reputation for partying and we do enjoy our social occasions, but often this is combined with a key aim to fundraise for a charitable cause. We organise charity auctions where local businesses can donate prizes and we also support other local events by helping to man car parks, for example, in return for a donation to our designated charity, which this year is Diabetes UK.
‘Every year, we sell Christmas trees and we then collect them in the New Year to dispose of them by shredding them – again for a donation. We are hoping to expand our range of services by offering house clearances and we are more than happy for people to contact us about this as well as providing bar staff for weddings or other parties.’
Ben is keen to highlight that being in the Young Farmers can not only provide a friendship group, but being a member can create other opportunities.
‘NFYFC (National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs) can offer training courses that can help broaden your skill set and help with future employment,’ says Ben. ‘If nothing else, being a Young Farmer encourages motivation, team work and leadership and is a great experience which looks great on a CV.’
Ben would like to encourage more local people to come along and get involved, and anyone interested can join them at their weekly meet in Castle Hedingham.
‘If you are in any way nervous about just turning up, please call one of the committee or message us and we can arrange to meet you a bit before and then introduce you to the others. We are a very welcoming group and, to reiterate, it doesn’t matter if you are not at all connected with agriculture, we are an open group.’
So for all 16 to 26 year olds in the Halstead area, if you are happy to roll up your sleeves and get involved, can passionately pull a hefty rope in a muddy field and party in a barn every now and then, then why not give your Young Farmers’ Club a try?
For more information, visit www.essexyoungfarmers.com/clubs/halstead/