Spreading the word at Farms for Schools regional conference
The Year of Food and Farming in Schools, staged between September 2007 and July 2008 and instigated by Don Curry, achieved enormous gains in educating children about agriculture. It endorsed and complemented so much already achieved by various organisations, and also identified potential problems of opening up your farm to schoolchildren, all to do with safety and insurance.
So the Farms for Schools Regional Conference held at Bicton College last week, was a welcome addition to the campaign, with guests from across the South West. The event, which was aimed at farmers who have parties of schoolchildren visiting them, updated the delegates on the latest Health and Safety legislation from the Griffin Report, as well as changes to the National Curriculum.
The conference heard from a pasture expert on the science of growing grass, how it is measured and the importance of maintaining the nutritional content for livestock production.
Additional topics to help farmers facilitate visits included Health and Safety, covered in a presentation by Bill Graham, from Farming & Countryside Education (FACE) and illustrated with photo cards, identifying the day-to-day hazards on farm and the risks these pose to visitors.
The group heard about the importance of running water for hand-washing facilities as opposed to using the antibacterial hand gels – and good facilities for boot washing.
Janet Hickinbottom, the national educational officer for FACE, said: "These conferences provide a valuable opportunity for farmers to meet and exchange ideas while picking up new tips to ensure the visits they offer to schoolchildren are of high quality, safe ... and fun too."
Katherine Sealy, the Devon FACE co-ordinator and organiser of the event, told me: "It is so important that farmers engage with schoolchildren as the next generation of consumers, so that they understand the processes involved in producing their meals and understand about the management of the countryside."
Farmers attending were also encouraged to try their hand at activities which they could do with parties of schoolchildren on their farm, including "what does it take to make 30 litres of milk?", looking at the quantities involved in the daily milk-production cycle and butter making.
The value of the conference was summed up by Debbie Harding, from Sunnyside Farm, Barnstaple, who said: 'It was great to meet fellow farmers who open up their farms to schools and the public and share ideas, experiences and activities with them."