Funny Farm

18th April 2008 at 01:00
How many children in your class have been to a farm? Do they even know how the food in their lunchboxes is produced? Nick Morrison talks to those who've got their hands dirty

It's one thing to know that cheese comes from a cow - it's another thing altogether to find out how a pail of milk turned into that shrink-wrapped slice in your lunchbox.

Giving children first-hand experience of the countryside and where their food comes from is the principal aim of the Year of Food and Farming, a campaign that brings together government departments, the National Farmers' Union and the School Food Trust, among others.

And the link between St Mark's Primary in Weston-super-Mare and Lower Stock Farm, just outside Bristol, is precisely the sort of partnership the campaign aims to promote.

Julie Bowden, a Year 6 teacher at St Mark's, says that the scheme gives children the chance to see how a farm works. While Year 2 looks at farm habitats and goes pond dipping, and Year 4 looks at the differences between town and country, Year 6 gets to see micro-organisms in action.

"We see how they are used in cheese production, and also in rotting apples for the animals' feed, and silage," Julie says. "It helps the children to see that there is a process involved and it fills in a lot of gaps."

Although St Mark's is not in a built-up city, Julie says many of the children will never have stood in a field before. Even visiting a farm is broadening their horizons. Standing by a wheat field and talking about how bread is made, or going into the farm shop to find out where meat comes from, can be revelatory.

"It is a penny-dropping moment," Julie says. "Any learning outside the classroom is beneficial and when you can set that learning in a real-life context it is even better."

Nick Baker, the farm's education manager, says it hosted visits from about 10,000 children last year. "Not enough children go into the countryside and we want to make them aware of where their food comes from," he says.

The project began more than 20 years ago and now involves more than 60 schools from the Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol and North Somerset local authorities.

Nick also goes into schools, taking a lunchbox to explain how it is all made and demonstrating grinding wheat into flour. But it is down on the farm where the really memorable experiences occur.

As well as demonstrations of how cheese is made, and warehouses full of three-and-a-half thousand tonnes of cheese, the pupils get to see the animals up close.

"They can watch a cow regurgitating its food and chewing the cud, and I don't think children will forget that," Nick says

Fill your boots

The Year of Food and Farming runs until July and was designed to encourage children to take a more active interest in the countryside and food production.

It was launched last year by the Prince of Wales, who said: "We need to explain that the choices people make when they buy food have a direct effect on the social and environmental future of the countryside." The launch was accompanied by a survey that found that more children aged eight to 13 had been on holiday than had ever visited the countryside.

It's not just children who don't know what goes into their dinner. A survey by the Linking Environment and Farming organisation last year found a fifth of adults didn't know that bacon and sausages came from farms and almost one in three had never visited a farm, with Scots, Londoners and Mancunians the least likely to get their boots muddy.

As well as encouraging schools to arrange farm visits, the campaign also highlights opportunities for growing and cooking food, sourcing local produce, and promoting careers in food and farming.

Details of how to get involved and the resources available are on www.yearoffoodand

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