A taste of the countryside

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Farmers are helping to teach children where food comes from, writes Jean McLeish

CAMERON AND KAY have stroked the calf and gazed adoringly at the lambs.

They know you make biscuits from wheat and porridge from oats. They have let barley stream through their fingers and deeply inhaled the aroma of the hay which farmer Ken Howie says smells of summer and the wonderful July day it was harvested. But they still don't want to be farmers.

"It's too hard," Cameron Campbell, a P3 pupil at Lumphanan Primary, near Banchory, says. So which bit is too hard? "It's all too hard," he says, as if he has lived 70 years, not seven. "I want to be a footballer. I want to play for Aberdeen, it's fun," he declares.

On tiptoes beside him, seven-year-old Kay Gibson is as forthcoming as a politician on Newsnight, refusing to be drawn on her career plans but smiling angelically.

At 4.30am, when he rose to feed his animals, Ken Howie would have preferred to be a footballer too, or anyone with a few more hours to spend under the duvet. But Ken has a passion for rural life and he has brought some of his animals to the school playground to explain to the children why farming is a vital activity in the Scottish countryside.

You would think that in the heart of rural Aberdeenshire this would be the marketing equivalent of coals to Newcastle. But no, only a handful of these children have direct family links with farming.

Ken is here as part of the Countryside Classroom on Wheels project organised by the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative, a charity supported by leading agribusinesses. Teacher Katie Finch wanted support with her combined P2-P4 class: the pupils are learning about farming as their environmental studies topic.

"The RNCI provided an excellent box of resources, which included posters, DVDs CD-Roms and activity sheets," she says.

Its educational initiative, spreading the message about the working countryside, was launched almost 10 years ago. Sheila Stuart, the RNCI project officer who organises visits for schools across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray, says: "People were becoming increasingly remote - even in rural areas - from the countryside and their knowledge and basic understanding of it was failing.

"I think it's because there are probably fewer people who have associations with farms. Some time ago, everybody had a link to the farm, through their parents or their grandparents and on holidays on the farm, and they learned about it. But increasingly that is just not happening.

"So we're trying to give not only children, but adults as well, an understanding of how their food is produced and where it comes from," says Sheila, who is a farmer's daughter and a farmer's wife.

"It's vitally important for the farming industry, because if they don't know how and where their food is produced, then how can people support the industry?"

Ken farms locally and today has brought along two lambs and an Aberdeen Angus calf named Cairnton Kracatoa on his trailer as visual aids for his talk. But he is squeamish about teaching the hard facts of farming.

"I struggle a bit with telling them that these two lambs will be hanging up within the next month," he confesses. "I tell them that other lambs will go for slaughter, but not those two. They are going to be pets and live to an old age."

He needn't worry. The next group of children put him straight when he asks what they think happens with bulls that don't make the grade as breeding stock. A wee voice from the back pipes up: "They get dead."

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