Having lived my whole life in the countryside, I find it hard to believe how little some people know about what goes on or where food comes from – particularly young children. Luckily, the need to begin education about food, farming and the countryside generally at an early age is being recognised as important.
It matters because the public at large should have an understanding of where food comes from and how our countryside is shaped. It is vital because of the need for people to pursue careers in the food and farming supply chains.
Impressions of careers are formed very early in life, often before early teens; thus the industry needs to begin engaging with future generations early. A challenge that has been recognised by a range of businesses and trade bodies. This has led to a variety of school initiatives and the creation of organisations such as FACE – Farming and Countryside Education – to help teachers educate, and young children learn.
Teaching resources and school gardens are great steps forward, but you cannot beat hands-on experience to understand what the countryside is all about. Practical experience is what the East of England Agricultural Society’s ‘Kids Country’ is all about. A small core of Society staff, supported by dozens and dozens of volunteers deliver a year-round programme of events to let children see, first hand, what the countryside is about.
In January, over 500 school children were given wholesome breakfasts as part of the Society’s support for the national Breakfast Week initiative. In March, the team helped 400 children ‘Grow your own potatoes’. While in May it was real hands on stuff at ‘Happy Chicks Day’ – where children could touch and hold chicks and hens while learning about egg production.
However, the flagship event is the ‘Food and Farming Day’ held this year on 1 July where over 5,500 school children were bussed from all over East Anglia to the Society’s showground in Peterborough. For a whole day they received a real insight into what happens in the countryside.
For a born and bred countryman, it is a real eye opener. Children come who have never stood on grass, let alone stroked a cow, smelt a pig or met a gun dog. The latter being my own input, working with the Cambridgeshire Gundog Club to show our visitors (pupils and teachers alike) different breeds, how they are trained and how they work.
The day works thanks to huge support from a wide range of individuals, clubs and corporate businesses. The Tesco Eat Happy project provided the main sponsorship, Barclays Bank provided dozens of staff, and fresh food businesses like Bartletts and Produce World provided produce. Huge machines loaned by commercial businesses such as New Holland, as well as local farmers, can be seen. Not to mention the ever popular tractor and trailer rides.
This event is now the largest one-day event focused on educating future generations in the UK. Something the Society, sponsors, supporters and volunteers are all rightly proud of.
Hopefully, some of the young visitors will go home and provide some education to mum and dad when next they visit a supermarket. Perhaps they will actually want to go for a trip to the countryside. Or perhaps they will aspire to join the farming, food and countryside industries – the biggest single sector of the UK economy – helping these industries meet the challenge of an ever-increasing global population and its increasing demand for food to eat and countryside to enjoy.
Geoff Dodgson is a non-executive trustee of the East of England Agricultural Society and Senior Consultant at Ware Anthony Rust.
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