Pictured above: Farmvention champion Afeefa Haroon at an NFU farm in Surrey
During one of the most high profile weeks in parliamentary history, school children from across the country congregated in the Houses of Commons to present their farming inventions to MPs and a judging panel led by NFU President Minette Batters.
This was part of the NFU’s Farmvention competition which aimed at teaching children about where food comes from and how it’s produced. Pupils were asked to solve three farming-related challenges using Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to win the prize of having their school turned into a farm for a day.
More than 2,000 school children entered and nine finalists were chosen to visit an NFU member farm with their class to get hands-on experience about what life is like as a farmer.
Commenting on the success of the competition, NFU President Minette said: “Agriculture is a high-tech industry and as the world changes it will need an increasing workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians.
“We set out with the aim of opening young eyes to the realities of British agriculture and the many exciting opportunities within the industry, and I’m proud to say we have done just that.”
One of the NFU members who hosted a local school was Paula Matthews, who alongside her husband Laurence run a mixed 3000 acre farm in Surrey. The children who attended the visit were from Ronald Ross School, a primary school in the London Borough of Wandsworth. “We’ve got children coming out from London who have never set foot in the countryside let alone on the farm,” said Paula.
“Most children have such a disconnect from where their food comes from and we want to try to re-create that link to help people understand how their food is produced and the standard to which we’re working to.”
Paula acted as tour guide for the year three class as they travelled through the countryside. From the back of the bus, one pupil raised their hand and excitedly asked: “Will we see sheep?” which was met with ecstatic cheers and clapping when Paula confirmed the thrilling news.
Providing an opportunity for children, especially from rural upbringings, to visit farms is one of the reasons Paula jumped at the opportunity to host the Farmvention visit. She said: “I don’t think there is enough farming in the curriculum and only certain schools can say okay we’re doing maths, let’s go out to a farm and start looking at the geometry of tractor wheels.”
She continues: “There are some schoolchildren whose families will keep chickens, they might go horse riding or drive through the countryside on the way to school so they’ve got more of a link already with the countryside.
“Looking at these kids today, their open spaces are parks so they won’t have any idea of how food is made so the link to urban schools is really important to set them up for their adulthood.”
Commenting on the effect that the competition and farm visit has had on the school children, Deputy Head Teacher of Ronald Ross School, Brinder Bains, said: “I think it’s a brilliant competition because it really gets the kids engaged on their own, featuring what’s important to them.
“For children from schools such as ours who have no experience of where their food comes from it’s so enlightening for them to have this opportunity.
“It’s great for them to see the cattle, the lamb, the chickens, can learn about the transition between the grains that are grown here and how that comes into our supermarkets and what we’re eating.”
Afeefa Haroon was the eight year old mastermind behind her school's entry who went on to win the entire competition.
Her design was a tractor of the future which incorporated an eco-friendly drone zip line that protects soil structure by sowing, maintaining and picking the crop from above, removing the need for heavy machinery.
Commenting on her winning design, Afeefa said: “Farmvention has been really fun. My favourite part was making the model farm with the zip line.
“The zip line is good because it can do the farmer’s work without squashing the soil. Winning the competition makes me feel really proud.”
Minette, who judged the competition said: “The entry identified some of the biggest challenges farmers face on a day-to-day basis, such as worker shortages, soil compaction and energy usage, and provided solutions.
I’m so glad that this competition has not only bridged the gap between children and their food, but opened the eyes of young people to the opportunities the farming industry offers.”
The NFU Education team are already starting to plan for next year’s event and the more pressing matter of how to turn their school into a farm for the day. As Ronald Ross School is in the heart of London this is going to take some considerable out of the box thinking but with some incredibly innovative children at the school, we’re in safe hands.
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