The roots of our food

Anne Shade

Anne Shade lists working farms in Scotland that take children back to the land.

Many children fail to associate food with farming. They may never even have grown something as simple and quick to mature as radishes or lettuces. Fruit, vegetables, milk and meat in supermarkets generally appear conveniently packaged and free from any traces of their origins.

As a result, farming has become distant from the lives of city children. Even the traditional Scottish "tattie holiday", which would at least have served as a reminder of harvest time, is now called the "October Holiday Week".

But north of the border there are still opportunities to learn about our agricultural heritage and present-day farming practices.

The Scottish Farm and Countryside Education Trust has close contacts with the National Farmers Union and organises farm visits for groups of all ages from nurseries through to senior secondary pupils. Schools may also arrange to visit one particular farm over a long period through the Farm Links project. In another effort to encourage the study of farming among primary classes, the trust awards a School Shield for outstanding project work on various farming and countryside themes, while small groups of secondary pupils can enter the Schools Challenge.

* Contact Dorothy Amyes. Tel: 0131 333 3805 to arrange visits or farm links, or for details of educational packs and award schemes.

Farm visits can also be set up through local agricultural colleges. The Scottish Agricultural College provides opportunities for fieldwork at three teaching farms around the country. Boghall Countryside Centre, for example, a commercial, mixed farm near Edinburgh, runs a number of courses and activities to tie in with environmental studies at primary level as well as the more specialised needs of older pupils studying biology, physical geography, land use and recreation, or farm conservation.

Two farm trails with explanatory leaflets, classroom facilities, teaching handouts, field study equipment and teachers' workshops are all available. Auchincruive in Ayr and Craibstone in Aberdeen offer a similar service for school groups.

* Boghall Farm, Biggar Road, near Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 445 5275.

* Auchincruive, Ayr. Tel: 01292 520331 ext 377.

* Craibstone Estate, Aberdeen, contact Morag Reid. Tel: 01224 712532.

All three centres 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, free.

Drumming up enthusiasm for fieldwork and farm visits is one thing. It is quite another to get a class excited about static displays of rusting machinery and old photographs. Aden Country Park, however, manages to bring old style farming very much to life through a mixture of historical detail and lively activities. Hareshowe Farm, belonging to the North East Scotland Agricultural Centre at Mintlaw, is a fine example of agricultural life in the 1950s.

A few years ago, it was dismantled and transported lock, stock and barrel to the country park and then reconstructed. Now it is easy to step back four decades and the seasonal demonstrations using traditional equipment and methods make the point that even the oldest things on the farm were once new, and the oldest ideas were once progressive and innovative.

After looking round the fields, stroking the cattle in the byre and watching hens scratching around the base of the old-fashioned hay stacks, children can sample freshly baked treacle scones in the farmhouse kitchen before travelling to the nearby heritage centre in a horse drawn wagon. The centre, housed in a semi-circular steading, has award-winning displays of old farming equipment and a reconstructed horseman's house where bread and oatcakes are regularly made.

* Mintlaw, 30 miles north of Aberdeen. Guided tours for primary classes; school parties book in advance. Tel: 01771 622857. Free.

Hand-milking and butter-making demonstrations can be arranged for school groups at Almond Valley Heritage Centre. The centre is based around an l8th century water-mill and has various examples of milling and farming equipment, plus Clydesdale horses, goats, hens and ducks.

The scale of the farm and its facilities, which include a nature trail, oil shale adventure play area, play tractors and cart rides, make the centre particularly suitable for nursery and primary classes.

* Millfield, Livingston, West Lothian. Daily 10am-5pm. Pounds 2.20 Pounds 1.10 or membership at Pounds 10 per year plus 50p admission per child. Tel: 01506 414957.

The Scottish Agricultural Museum, alongside the Royal Highland Show ground at Ingliston, covers farming and the many skills and trades that supported it. As a museum, it does not have animals to pet, but the displays are attractively laid out under one roof, making it a good venue whatever the weather.

Life-size models and scenes include a partially-built cruck-frame croy house. Audio-visual programmes cover Robert Burns the farmer, crofting, wartime farming and the agricultural revolution. Quiz sheets are available for lower and upper primary, and for secondary classes which encourage detailed and enthusiastic study as children attempt to find exhibits such as the strangely named "Glass Queen", "roog" and "bill an".

* Ingliston, by Edinburgh airport, daily 10am to 5pm April to September, Monday to Friday October to March, disabled facilities and access. Tel: 0131 333 2674. Free.

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