Eight months into her role as farm manager at Forge Mill Farm owned by Sandwell Borough Council in Birmingham, aged 24, Alex Dunn shares her farming experience and why others should consider it too.
I shall be forever grateful to those inspirational farmers who provided me with opportunities for work experience in my early years.
As someone not from a farming family who wanted to make a career within agriculture, those valuable experiences taught me a lot. Time spent on an organic dairy farm in Wiltshire which was running a New Zealand style grazing system provided me with a keen interest in grassland management and high standards of animal welfare. What I saw there motivated me to make my own journey to New Zealand to learn more.
I ended up spending almost 2 years working on dairy cattle, dairy goat and dairy sheep farms learning valuable lessons and gaining great experience which would stand me in great stead for my future career back in the UK. Spending time with new entrant sheep farmers in West Sussex, who had a passion for public engagement, taught me how important it is to ensure that farming is connected with its consumers. I took a lot of what I learned there into my first proper UK-based job in agriculture where I was engaging with schools and the public on a daily basis.
Now, managing the farms owned by Sandwell Borough Council, I have the joy of seeing the developing links of farming and the public in a predominantly urban area of the country. Many with a passion for agriculture might think that the only way into this great industry is through land ownership or farm tenancies. Of course, those opportunities are available, but the industry is also able to offer fulfilling employment. Having had so many years of input from established farmers, I am now delighted to be able to encourage in others the joy I have for farming, particularly through the apprentice scheme at Forge Mill Farm.
I’m currently working with two great apprentices and I have just completed interviews to bring on our next batch of apprentices, keen to find their way within farming. As the coronavirus restrictions ease, we are also beginning again to welcome groups of schools onto the farm for taster days. I am sure that, like me, there will be at least one or two in these groups who will be bitten by the farming bug and want to find out more. What I am sure of is that without those self-sacrificing farmers who were willing to offer me their time and expertise, I would not be where I am today. However, for young people, particularly from urban areas and unconnected with our industry, finding these opportunities for work experience can be difficult if not impossible.
Perhaps we need to develop some sort of database of farmers who are willing to provide safe, valuable and inspiring openings for work experience so that those who think that farming could offer them a career, have the chance to try it out before they take the leap. Farming can provide these amazing opportunities.