Wholesome fare of the farm

The Scottish Farm and Countryside Educational Trust promotes understanding of landscape, wildlife and agriculture. Seonag MacKinnon visits a farm in the Borders which is working with the trust and opens its gates to schools

The farmers' labrador just happened to follow the schoolchildren everywhere on their visit to a working farm in the Borders. The farmer's wife just happened to make different kinds of scones for them in her kitchen. Edenside Primary pupils saw popular images of farming life turned into reality - but their visit had much more depth and educational value than these images suggest.

The Scottish Farm and Countryside Educational Trust (SFCET) has instigated a Farm Links scheme which allows schools to build up a relationship with nearby farms and through this meet many different aspects of the 5-14 curriculum, particularly environmental studies.

Maureen Clark of the Women's Farming Union and Edenside's link farm Kerchesters, comments: "It's no use coming for a jolly day out. We want children to get far more out of it." She visited Edenside in advance to help teachers plan the day's itinerary and the preparatory work in the classroom, which included safety, hygiene and the Countryside Code.

A video was part of the advance information package. By the time they got hands-on experience, the children could ask informed questions. After the visit they did follow-up work in the classroom and invited Mrs Clark and husband Jim to see their display and even judge the best piece of animal sculpture made by the children from vegetables.

Two groups of 30 children from Primary 3 visited for a half day each one October day at the tail end of harvest. Back in the classroom they made a planned model of Kerchesters.

A newly born calf with its mother gave the opportunity to advise the children to look but not go too near. Mr Clark asked children to guess how many litres of milk a dairy cow usually produces each day. Vegetables were weighed and a heap of a day's fodder for different animals gave a chance to practise estimating and measuring.

The humble potato had a starring role. Children looked for the differences between various species in the raw. Later they saw this vegetable transformed into potato scones and crisps. For some the link between a packet of crisps and a potato was a revelation. At the end of the day they each took home a potato and a plan to boil, roast, mash, chip or crisp it.

In the fields they saw a plough at close range and counted how many furrows it made simultaneously. Elsewhere they saw the pinhead size rape seed next to the 2m high blazing yellow plant that it becomes. Photographs by the Clarks taken at weekly intervals throughout the year with their dog in the foreground gave the children an idea to scale of how plants grow. In the final photo, the dog first pictured in a bare, newly-sown field is almost obscured by the vegetation. Edenside took its own photographs, which provided a record in story form.

A barn became a classroom when the children sitting on straw bales saw labelled packets of grains such as oats, wheat and barley produced on this mainly arable farm. Nearby were packets of cornflakes and soup mix as well as beer and whisky to demonstrate what the raw material becomes.

The dog and the very noisy geese were particularly popular. Less popular was the malodorous silage pit. Everything was a hit with one particular child unfamiliar with farms. "Isn't this a lovely farm? Isn't this a lovely calfgoosescone?" he said repeatedly after the many things he saw, touched or tasted in the course of the visit. Children from farming families were interested to see the difference between this and their own farm.

"I was surprised by the sheer interest. They were open-eyed at a lot of things," says Mr Clark.

Applauding the Farm Link scheme, Mrs Clark says that although Kelso is a relatively small town, she finds it surprising how little impact the countryside generally makes on children. They don't know much about how food is produced. "We've been really pleased by the feedback," she says.

Reinforcement of things learned on the visit delves into several areas of the 5-14 curriculum. Language development came into play when the children made scones with grain from Kerchesters that had been milled for them. They wrote down the list of ingredients and the procedures in the right order. Potato printing was one example of the expressive arts. Drama was used to instil the Countryside Code. Children used spontaneous speech to enact a scene where people break all the rules and receive a rocketing from a farmer.

The farming community gets a rewarding interaction with local children and a better understanding of their world among a broader section of the population. "Farms are quite isolated lonely places," says Mr Clark. "And farming people make up only about 1 per cent of the electorate. This scheme gives us a chance to show how clean, wholesome and interesting our world is."

Assistant headteacher Janice Lawrie says: "The children wouldn't have learned as much from TV and books. This was hands-on and structured. It was the being there that made this work."

Scottish Farm and Countryside Educational Trust, Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh EH28 8NF. Tel: 0131 333 3805

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