Until the 1950s, almost everyone had some knowledge of farming, if only from fruit-picking or keeping a few chickens and rabbits for the pot. But so few people work on the land now, due to the high-tech nature of modern farms, that agriculture has become detached from everyday life. And this is true even in rural areas, according to Trevor Rogers, education adviser at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS).
"People who live in villages tend to commute to towns, so the countryside remains a mystery to them," he explains. "Even children who have farmland on their doorstep have very little idea about why the fields look the way they do."
Annual events such as the Great Yorkshire Show, with its brass bands, equestrian competitions, livestock shows, and displays of country crafts, attract hundreds of thousands of visi-tors, including school groups, but the YAS has long felt it should be doing more to bridge the gap between farmers and young people.
"We've been in existence since 1837 and, for most of that time, we did not see ourselves as having an educational role," says the society's chief executive, Robin Keigwin. "But now that rural studies have given way to environmental studies and agriculture and horticulture have to fight their corner to get into the curriculum, we're doing everything we can to support teachers."
Trevor Rogers, formerly headteacher of Coulby Newham comprehensive near Middlesbrough, became the society's first education adviser three years ago.
Agriculture, in his terms, means farming, horticulture, forestry, fish-farming, conservation and the environment, and he sums up his job as "getting the message over that all of these things can fit easily into the national curriculum. I have a mountain of contacts and I am here to help any school doing work in any of those areas."
Resources available from the Yorkshire agricultural society
The society has five-acres of woodland at its Harrogate headquarters. This can be used, free, all year round, as a cross-curricular resource for key stages 1-3. Work pack available, with activities linked to national curriculum programmes of study.
Farm project for infant and junior schools Children have a day's outing to a nearby farm, then complete a project based on it. Help with travel expenses may be available.
Food and Farming Challenge
A competition for secondary schools who have to solve practical problems by organisations associated with food, farming and the countryside. Best projects are displayed at the Great Yorkshire Show. Last year's regional winners, a GNVQ leisure and tourism group from Colne Valley High School, produced a promotional leaflet for the Colne Valley Trust. It was so good that Kirklees Council financed its publication and distribution. Contact: Rod Macdonald, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwicks CV8 2LZ. Tel: 01203 696969
The outdoor classroom
Directory of farms and other outdoor sites which welcome schools studying agriculture and conservation. Joint venture with Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.
The Lychford File
Multimedia resource for key stage 2, produced by the Countryside Foundation, about a fictional Yorkshire village and its surrounding farmland. Costs Pounds 15.
Environment Study Areas
The education adviser can help schools create their own environment study areas and may be able to help with funding.
An annual two-day workshop in October for teachers of GNVQs in leisure, tourism and business, investigates all aspects of preparing and promoting the Great Yorkshire Show. The second day is devoted to developing material into GNVQ units.
Education and business links
Teachers and agricultural businesses are put in touch with each other. Farm and other placements (such as veterinary surgeries) can be arranged for teachers and pupils.
Food and Farming Education Service Resource Centre
The YAS has a wide range of reference material for teachers, including resource packs, reading lists and books. Contact: Trevor Rogers, education adviser, Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate, HG2 8PW. Tel: 01423 561536
Agricultural Resources in other regions
The Food and Farming Education Service
Based at the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, the FFES is an independent organisation that promotes understanding of food and farming on behalf of the agricultural industry.
Co-ordinator, Catriona Lennox says: "We are a one-stop shop for teachers, providing a wealth of teaching materials and information about farm visits. "
An FFES resource pack Learning from the Land, includes a nationwide directory of 800 farms to visit, illustrated fact sheets and a booklet The Farm as a Learning Resource - A Practical Guide.
There are FFES Regional Resource Centres in Sussex, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Norfolk, Lincoln and Cambridgeshire.
Further information: Janet Hickinbottom, education officer, Food and Farming Education Service, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwicks. CV8 2LZ. Tel: 01203 535707 Fax 01203 696388
The South of England Agricultural Society
For 12 years, this society has run a school farm link scheme, where farms adopt a school, bringing groups for regular visits. The idea came from the education faculty at Brighton University, and it enables farmers to build close relationships with one school.
Bill Gower, who runs a 700-acre dairy, beef, cereal and potato farm at Hurstmonceaux, Sussex, has been linked through the scheme with Hailsham Community College for seven years. he says. "Thirty kids come here four times a term as part of their Year 8 geography curriculum, and they ask me about things like land use, soil types, climatic conditions and changes in farming. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and, from their point of view, there is no substitute for seeing the real thing. I've found it cuts down vandalism - and it helps me gauge how farmers are perceived by the public."
Bill Gower also goes into the school to discuss agricultural issues with GCSE geography and sixth-form economics groups.
The South of England Agricultural Society also sponsors student competitions, such as the Food and Farming Challenge, and is a satellite resource centre for the Food and Farming Education Service.
Contact: Carole Hayward, education officer, South of England Centre, Ardingly, Haywards Heath, Sussex RH17 6TL. Tel: 01444 892700