Farmer nurtures a growing interest

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Brian Dow tells tales of tattie traditions and inspires pupils who thought they grew on trees

Aberdeenshire farmer Brian Dow is something of a rare breed - a man who works well with both children and animals. He has come to Milltimber Primary on the outskirts of Aberdeen to talk tatties with this P34 class, and the children have that absorbed stillness about them that suggests he's a bit of a natural.

Brian's a seed potato farmer a few miles from this school, where his wife works as an administrator. His children came to the school when they were younger, so he knows the lie of the land.

But he's also a good storyteller and knows how to keep his audience attentive.

"I can hear that tattie growing already," he whispers to the children, as they take turns pouring water onto the seed potatoes they planted just a week ago.

The annual tattie holidays in Scotland used to give school children the inside track on life on the farm, as well as a few extra shillings for joining the tattie howkers. But once farmers started using machinery for the harvest, that connection largely disappeared.

Fast forward a few decades and some children this age think potatoes grow on trees, according to Brian, who's spruced up in his Sunday best for today's visit. "Some of the kids think the tatties grow on the shaws. They know nothing about growing things, so they're not aware they grow in the soil."

Now he has joined an army of farmers across the country who are putting tatties back on the agenda in schools - teaching children to grow their own and helping them produce a bumper crop for a national competition.

This year, 10,000 Scottish pupils at over 400 primary schools are taking part in the sixth annual Count and Grow Potato Project, a competition organised by the Royal Highland Education Trust and supported by Clydesdale Bank. In the north east, Count and Grow is being organised on behalf of RHET by the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative in 35 schools in Aberdeen city and shire and Moray.

These children planted their potatoes only a week ago, but there are already signs of growth and P3s and 4s are hanging on Brian's every word. Schools have been supplied with six seed potatoes, pots, compost and a clear drinks bottle so they can view the growing process. Teachers get education packs and the opportunity to attend briefings alongside their link farmer.

Sally Christie, 9, and her friend Sophie Mahon, 8, have never grown potatoes before. "I knew they grew underground but I didn't know loads of stuff about them. I think once they have the big basket we've grown, we might give them to the cooks and we might eat them," says Sally.

"It's quite interesting how they are like us and need water, have to grow and go to sleep," says Sophie.

"He's a really good farmer at tatties," adds Sally. "He knows basically everything about tatties."

"It's starting to reach for . Yes, the sunlight," Brian tells the class. "See the tattie - it's coming up, look, see him? He's starting to grow. These roots will be stretching out to pick up water and nutrients. Can a'body see?" he asks them.

The girls love listening to Brian speaking Doric: "He likes really Scottish words like `aye aye' and he says `na' for no," says Sophie.

The potatoes' start and finish weights and a class project of their choice have to be submitted for the competition by June 18.

Teacher Fiona Graham is full of enthusiasm for the venture and its cross- curricular applications in maths, science and IT skills, as they record figures for their crops.

"There's a lot of maths involved, because we're talking about the growth and they're weighing the potatoes," she says.

scoted@tes.co.uk

FROM GATE TO PLATE

A pioneering project is demonstrating farming and food production methods to secondary pupils across Scotland.

Senior pupils from Annan Academy in Dumfriesshire were among the first to visit farm and food processors to learn about the dairy industry in their community. The objective of this Food Literacy Project is to help them understand food from gate to plate.

Up to 12 secondary schools are taking part in a two-year pilot scheme, organised by the Royal Highland Education Trust and supported by the education charity the Gordon Cook Foundation. Other schools include Biggar High, Ayr Academy and Kelso High, which will be visiting a variety of farm and food production ventures.

Annan Academy teacher Lindsey Cook says 15 of her Higher home economics pupils had a talk from farm manager Hugh McClymont of the Scottish Agricultural College's Crichton Royal Farm, which they then visited. "We saw the dairy and the milking," she says. "We discussed all the health aspects of the cows and how to increase their yield."

The following week, students visited The Cheese Company's manufacturing plant at Lockerbie, where they saw milk coming in and the production of cheese from start to finish.

"The students thought it was great," says Mrs Cook. "We are a fairly rural area and have a lot of dairy farms producing milk. This allowed children who have never been on a farm before to get on to one and see exactly what happens."

RHET manager Alison Motion says: "In the consultations for Scotland's National Food Policy, food education came high on the list of priorities. There is a need for consumers to make informed choices about food, with healthy eating and environmentally sustainable production part of the agenda."

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