We often talk about ‘Farm to Fork’ learning – having an appreciation for the whole food chain. Increasingly, it is being described as ‘Lab to Landfill’ – as the research and technological development pre-farm, and the way we consider our whole approach to food, is as important in solving future food challenges, as the work that takes place on farms, at processors and in kitchens. Last week I was privileged to hear some Year 7 pupils presenting on their journey through food, starting in a rather surprising place.
Recently a group of Year 7 pupils at Sir John Lawes School in Hertfordshire had the opportunity to explore some of the less-obvious sides of food production by taking part in a farming-inspired leadership challenge. The pre-existing programme at the school has already proven itself as a tool to helping pupils develop important skills like teamwork, critical thinking and public speaking. Within that framework, teacher (and FACE trustee) Helen Cox piloted a challenge to ‘solve’ a real-life scientific and business problem on a farm.
Over several weeks of this summer term, the group of young people responded to the challenge set by local farmer (and FACE Chairman), Ian Pigott. Familiar to gardeners and farmers alike, slugs are a huge problem, and notoriously difficult to control effectively, economically and environmentally. Ian was looking to the youngsters to bring fresh new eyes to the problem, assisted by the team of research professionals at nearby Rothamsted.
The creative solutions to the problem (and even more creative 3D models they produced to demonstrate their ideas) were the result of visits to the farm and the research institute, asking searching questions and working hard in teams to propose something that took into account the scale of the practical, scientific and economic challenges.
The pilot demonstrated, I think, four things:
- to the professional visitors, peers, teachers and parents, the pupils demonstrated just how far they had developed their personal leadership qualities
- to the young people, the experience demonstrated that farming is a relevant and cutting-edge industry with pressing challenges and some surprising specialist roles
- to the school, that farming as a context for learning is rich with curriculum content, experiences and local connections
- to us, that even relatively short interventions by farmers and the wider industry can offer a lot to secondary schools, across academic learning, careers and wider personal development.