I spent a day last week at the Farm Business Innovation Show, where I was inundated with questions from farmers looking to open up their farm to schoolchildren, or somehow improve their offer to schools. Although the show was about farm diversification, the visitors to the stand were not under the misapprehension that education work would be a money-spinner. But they did recognise the unique opportunity and responsibility that they have to engage young learners with issues of food production and countryside stewardship. As one farmer, also a school governor said to me, it’s quite simply about being part of the community.
While some found it hard to attract classes out to the farm for the first time, many had succeeded by initially going into schools and talking about their work and the farm they manage.
I’m so grateful to the farmers taking this approach. Our latest research shows that although schools are really championing both food and the natural environment these days (29% and 42% of teachers regularly covering these in class), farming still doesn’t get much of a look-in (only 11%). And I suppose why would it? Most people probably wouldn’t pause to think about how it is the fundamental link that ties these two things together. Yet 62% of our food is farmed in Britain, and 75% of the natural environment in the UK is farmland. So you can’t really look at the story of either without considering the people, places and processes that bring the food to our tables or that manage our natural heritage.
Comparing ourselves to the celebrity champions of food (Jamie Oliver and co) or the might of the wildlife charities (Wildlife Trusts in partnership with the media event of the year – the 2016 John Lewis Christmas advert!) might leave us feeling quite daunted.
So here are my five top tips for farmers thinking of getting started:
- Link up with a wildlife or culinary expert and approach schools together – the joined up story is more impactful, the familiarity of food and nature will open doors more easily, and working together is always easier if you aren’t used to talking to large groups of children.
- Introduce yourself to a teacher and make them aware of Countryside Classroom – almost everyone knows a teacher who is a friend, member of the family or through their local connections. Let them know that there are loads of resources and inspiration. You could order a copy of Why Farming Matters and give this to a primary teacher.
- Ask if you can take part in a class or an assembly at your local school. Primaries love to have local people in to talk about their work, and secondary schools often use tutor time or assemblies to look at current affairs (animal welfare is a perennial topic, for example).
- Get trained and take advice from visitmyfarm.org.uk. Gear yourself up to offer visits to your own farm. It seems like a huge step, but after some elementary training, it all becomes a lot easier. 85% of people who have taken the CEVAS 2-day course go on to run successful farm visits.
- Work with a Countryside Classroom partner. Several of the partners, like FACE, have regional staff who can help to connect you with school.