NFU President Minette Batters joined a school visit at Barleylands Farm Park in Essex to see how its dedicated education team has been engaging children with the food and farming story for the past 36 years.
Owner Peter Philpot first opened the gates of Barleylands Farm in 1984 with a few pieces of old machinery. Now the award-winning education team welcomes nearly 20,000 school children a year to the eight-acre Farm Park near Billericay.
Spearheaded by former teacher Karen Watson, the fully immersive school days are based on different themes - from rocks and soils to kitchen science - and individually planned to meet the age and abilities of visiting children and the curriculum needs of the school.
The school visits also teach important life lessons and skills in the classroom kitchen about nutritional eating, cooking with fresh ingredients and avoiding food waste by using up leftovers, all through creative hands-on activities.
Ms Batters, NFU Regional Director Rachel Carrington and the 60 Year 3 pupils from South Benfleet Primary School took part in a field-to-fork day, in which they ground wheat, identified seeds, churned butter, talked about herbs and vegetables in the polytunnel and learned about crop cycles, soil and animal husbandry in the Discovery Barn.
They made dough with Ms Batters and each created a healthy pizza to take back to school using raw ingredients grown on the farm and in the local area.
Ms Batters said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like Barleylands. It’s really important to teach children how their food is produced, and they are not only seeing it grown and reared here but with the brilliant kitchen facilities they are also learning about cooking with the ingredients and about a healthy balanced diet which is absolutely critical.
“Barleylands is also introducing them to the jobs not only in food production but across the spectrum the industry.
"On many different levels what it is doing provides children with many different skill sets. My only sadness is we need a Barleylands in every different region in the country. We need more of this.
“Every child in this country should have a right to understand how their food is produced, learn about the environment they live in and learn about how to cook."
To help school children learn about food and farming, the NFU now has its own in-house education team, which has worked with nearly 800 teachers across the country since its launch a year ago. It is also training a team of farmers to go into schools.
With its strong schools programme, Barleylands has been selected as a regional finalist in the Countryside Alliance’s ‘Rural Oscars’ for the Clarissa Dickson Wright Award.
This was set up in memory of the celebrated cook and countryside campaigner and is awarded to a business for the biggest commitment to food and farming, campaigning and education.
The farm park is also a regional finalist in the Rural Enterprise Award which celebrates diverse and energetic businesses that have a positive impact on their local community.
Mrs Watson said:“We have a real opportunity at Barleylands to share the positive farming story in a fun, engaging way and one that has impact not only on the children but on the adults who accompany them.
"Whatever the topic in the curriculum – maths, science, history – we can weave in where food comes from and how farmers create as well as protect the environment. We are also able to talk about the broader role food and farming plays in society and introduce school children to the highly skilled jobs you can do in agriculture.”