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Farmers try to win hearts and minds

Lunch was a little unusual for the lambs at a working dairy farm in north Wales earlier this month. The food arrived as usual, but so did 39 reception and Year 1 children from Boughton Heath primary school, near Chester.

The youngsters were being shown around Farmworld, near Wrexham, thanks to a new association anxious to improve the tattered image of the industry through organising school visits. They were shown a milking parlour, helped feed the lambs and were tractored round the farm, which has been taking visitors since the late 1970s.

The decision to launch the National Association of Farms for Schools pre-dates the recent row over live animal exports, but the organisation clearly intends to be an important force in a hearts and minds campaign aimed at the nation's youngsters.

The association's school packs, however, do not mention veal exports or the final destination of the animals at Farmworld. But John Newton Jones, who runs the farm and chairs the new association, said such issues were not ducked if they are raised by children.

"I remember a seven year-old lad asking what happened to the cows when they stopped producing milk," he said. "It would have been easy to say they were put out in to the meadow, but you don't. You have to be honest. I told him it was sent to market and ended up in beefburgers."

He said most school visits were aimed at primary children and they were realistic about farming and the place of animals in the food chain. The dairy calves at his farm are not exported.

The National Farmers' Union has also published new guides which show teachers how to plan a farm visit - and farmers how to host them. The work is geared to the national curriculum. A separate pack tells farmers how they can give simple talks on food and farming to primary children using the contents of a lunch box. Research is under way on materials for secondary schools.

More than 100 farmers and growers have joined the new association and the NFU has been in contact with 6,000 primary heads in England and Wales. Each farm that joins receives a charter showing basic standards of health and safety as well as educational needs have been met.

Compassion in World Farming supports farm visits, but believes that children must learn about all facets of the industry.

Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of CIWF, said: "It is a smashing idea to let children see farms. Of course show them lambs out in the fields and show calves, but if you are going to show where food comes from take them around a battery farm to see where eggs come from. Let them see how young pigs are kept on intensive farms."

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