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Backbone of Britain: ‘Farmer Time’ needs new recruits

Video calls between farmers and the classroom are bringing the countryside to life for children, a notion being developed as part of Leaf Education and Village Farms Farmer Time initiative. Hannah Park speaks to two farmers who have taken part to find out more about what’s involved.

Charlie Beaty
Charlie Beaty

Helping school children engage and better understand where their food comes from is vital.

 

And what better way to do that than to bring British farmers and growers directly into the classroom.

 

It was this thinking that led Cambridgeshire farmer Tom Martin to launch Farmer Time – a concept which sees short, regular videocalls between a classroom of school children and a farmer take place with the aim of teaching them about where the food on their plate comes from.

 

Linking Environment And Farming (Leaf) Education is now continuing to develop Farmer Time in collaboration with Tom as its founder.

 

Launched in 2017, the free initiative has matched 524 schools and farms, reaching nearly 16,000 children so far.

 

But with more schools than farmers on its books, farmers are being encouraged to step up and get involved.

 

Carl Edwards, director, education and public engagement at Leaf Education, says: “We are delighted to see the positive impact Farmer Time is having on educating, inspiring and engaging children with farming, how their food is grown and where it comes from.

 

“Farmer Time enables children who may not normally get a chance to access the countryside to experience the sights and sounds of farming. We urge farmers and schools alike to participate in what has proven to be an enormously successful initiative.

 

“There has never been a more crucial time for us to engage and inspire future generations about the role farming plays in the food we eat.”

“Taking part is rewarding. It’s nice to do something that will potentially help educate those eating decisions for children now or in the future.”

Charlie Beaty

In the field: Charlie Beaty, Warwickshire

Charlie Beaty farms in Coventry, Warwickshire, alongside her dad, Adam, and uncle, Tom, where they run a mixed arable, beef and sheep enterprise across about 405 hectares (1,000 acres) alongside a contracting business.

 

She returned to the business in April 2019, after obtaining a degree in agriculture from Harper Adams university in 2017, followed by a period of travelling and working in New Zealand and Australia for Claas.

 

Cropping consists of wheat, barley, oats and field beans on rotation and the farm is currently trialling various regenerative methods, including direct drilling and increasing cover cropping which can support grazing

livestock.

 

An 85-cow Simmental cross suckler herd is kept, which sees a proportion of heifers retained as replacements annually, with others mostly sold as stores at between 15-20 months old though their local mart.

 

In a bid to start to move towards a closed sheep flock, as with the cattle, Lleyns have been introduced into the 330-ewe flock. Up to now, North of England Mules and a system based on buying in a proportion of ewe lamb replacements annually has been in place. Finished lambs are sold deadweight in the main through a local

abattoir.

 

Keen on doing her bit to develop the relationship between agriculture and the consumer, Charlie also started selling lamb boxes off the farm about 18 months ago. Marketed via social media and word-of-mouth in the main, these have taken off, Charlie says, and are proving popular in the local area.

 

About 15 per cent of lambs are sold via these currently, with beef recently added to the offering as well, set to be out to customers at the end of November.

 

Aligned with this interest in connecting consumers with where their food comes from is Charlie’s involvement in the Farmer Time initiative.

 

Getting involved, she says, was a ‘no-brainer’.

 

“I’m a real stickler for education,” says Charlie.

 

“It’s so important that we do what we can to promote more understanding among consumers on where their food has come from, why we do what we do and how their food choices will impact their life and the planet.

 

“Agriculture as an industry cannot be truly sustainable without the backing of the general public.

 

“The best place to start has to be with school children. They are the next generation of consumers.”

 

About twice a month Charlie uses Skype or Zoom on her smartphone to make a 10 to 15 minute video call from somewhere on the farm to the school classrooms she is paired with about with. Although this can be flexible depending on-farm commitments at the time.

 

“I generally speak to the teacher before to find out what the class is learning at that time and whether I can link in anything on-farm,” Charlie says.

 

“Things like habitats or food production. It can be a general chat or on something exciting that might be happening on-farm at the time. Anything that fits.

 

“As you’re getting used to it, don’t be afraid to ask the teacher to pitch the concept to their class beforehand and get a list of questions through – this really helped me get a feel for the calibre of questions they would ask and how to pitch the session.

 

“Taking part is rewarding. It’s nice to do something that will potentially help educate those eating decisions for children now or in the future.”

“It doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s not demanding on my time”

Chris Foster

In the field: Chris Foster, Lincolnshire

Chris Foster is a self-employed contractor and farmer in Lincolnshire.

 

Having grown up on a mixed family farm in South Yorkshire, he is a former lecturer and deputy head of department in Agriculture at a local agricultural college.

 

Having stepped down to build his contracting business, Chris works for various livestock and arable enterprises through the year, while also running his own flock of sheep.

 

The flock is made up of about 90 commercials and some 30 pedigree Texel, Hampshire Down and Suffolk sheep, run under the Turfbury prefix, which he manages across some 28 hectares (70 acres) split over various rented blocks between Gainsborough to Market Rasen.

 

Chris got involved in Farmer Time after coming across a post on social media two years ago, and it is a decision he does not regret.

 

“It’s such an easy way to show the next generation what we do day-to-day,” says Chris.

 

“But, crucially, it can be delivered in a light-hearted and fun way.”

 

While fortnightly calls have not gone ahead as usual during lockdown, Chris has been able to keep in touch with his paired class teacher by sending farm pictures and video updates that have been posted on the class’ closed Twitter page.

 

“It’s been a fun way of keeping up with the children during lockdown.,” he says.

 

“Be that funny antics you couldn’t make up, or tame lambs coming with you on a walk. These are hard times and I feel it’s important students get to see the fun stuff as well as learning more about food and farming.”

 

He encourages anyone on the fence to get involved.

 

“Don’t hesitate,” he says.

 

“It doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s not demanding on my time. It can just fit into whatever I might be doing on a given day. I’ve done everything from the birth of a lamb, to a crop walk and look around a combine.

 

“It’s so rewarding to be a part of – we could be encouraging the next generation of farmers.”

pic 1

Chris Foster

Findings of the Farmer Time Impact Report 2020

  • 524 schools and farms have been paired up
  • 15,720 children of school age have been reached
  • 71 per cent of farmers have spoken to children about careers in farming
  • 96 per cent of farmers who participated will be continuing with Farmer Time next year
  • 100 per cent of farmers have enjoyed the experience
  • 96 per cent of teachers believe the children gained a better understanding of the food supply chain

Farmer Time – what’s involved?

  • Farmers interested in taking part should register their interest at farmertime.org.
  • Linking Environment And Farming (Leaf) Education can provide support and guidance
  • Once a school has been found, Leaf will make the initial introduction between the farmer and the teacher, who will then discuss a time and potential talking points for the call
  • A 10-15 minute video call can then take place at a set time, from anywhere on the farm
  • More information and to support to sign up from Leaf’s Tabitha Salisbury at tabitha.salisbury@leafuk.org or 02476 413911.

Proud to farm

Proud to farm

Unapologetically proud of the industry, and focusing on the people who make agriculture tick, Farming: The Backbone of Britain is a feel-good editorial campaign to shine a light on farming communities.

 

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