As the conversation continues over introducing agriculture in to the education system, Nancy Bryson from Bryson Tractors speaks to Emily Ashworth about her passion for teaching children about food and farming.
When it comes to educating people about the industry, speak to any farmer and they will probably say the same thing: It is not about pushing agendas, but about laying down the farming facts so people can make informed decisions for themselves.
And this is exactly what drives Nancy Bryson to take part in the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) Clyde Lanark Agricultural Food and Farming Day, ‘Taking the Classroom to the Countryside’.
RHET – the charitable arm of The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) – along with The Scottish Government, Lanark Agricultural Centre and members of the local agricultural community have come together to create an experience whereby children from both primary and higher education can experience the reality of farming. This special event is held over two days at Lanark Market every year.
After a survey in 2017 revealed the true extent of British children’s lack of knowledge about agriculture and food production, it highlighted some devastating misunderstandings as almost a 29 per cent of five to seven-yearolds believed cheese came from a plant, not an animal, while one in four older primary school pupils (aged eight to 11) thought the same.
For Nancy, the day provides them with a chance to help rectify this but, it also gives children from diverse backgrounds their first encounter with livestock in an agricultural environment.
“To see the look on the children’s faces is priceless,” says Nancy, who grew up on a mixed hill farm in Scotland.
“Some schools that visit are from rural areas, but some are from the city and have never been up close to a tractor or seen a cow before.
“At this age, they are like little sponges taking everything in, and can’t believe all the things that we are telling them.
“I really only get to see them when they have made their way around to my area but, they are always astonished at how big the tractor is – ‘wow’ is the usual comment. “Last year we had a Clydesdale horse with the tractor to compare ‘horse power’, and this was met with much delight as the horse was so big, yet so placid.”
After setting up Bryson Tractors, a New Holland dealership, 16 years ago, Nancy is keen to give something back to the rural community to which she’s always been a part of, especially when its in connection with the renowned Royal Highland Show.
“The Royal Highland is obviously massive in Scotland,” she says, recalling the trips she took in her own childhood.
“New Holland have a stand there, many of our customers show there and it’s just a huge part of the Scottish community and this provides us a chance to give back.
“The event is an opportunity to talk about our industry – most of my customers are farmers and if we’re all out there promoting farming, it helps to secure all our futures.”
RHET involves a whole host of people including butchers, milk processors and farmers from across all sectors laying the foundations for discussions about everything from cereals and vegetables to buying stock from an auction
She says: “I know that one of the highlights of their day is when they get to jump in to the auction ring. They are shown how sheep are sold, and some get to be the auctioneer while the others can bid
“This usually causes a lively exchange.”
Nancy and her team provide a New Holland tractor for the day and explain the workings of a modern farming machine while diving in to the technology aspect of it too, realising the next generations hunger for all things digital. She also holds career days at the dealership, opening the business up to work experience pupils to showcase the variety of job prospects in the industry.
She says: “It gives those of a school age a look in to what we do, and also a look at the incredible technology on offer.”
The RHET was established in 1999 to help children in Scotland learn about the countryside, food and farming, by providing rural visits to school children as well as supplying teachers with information on the issues that face farming.
Their four key areas look at:
“These events are also free,” says Nancy.
“This kind of education should be available to every child and the teachers are really good at being flexible in how they teach subjects – they will, for example, pick a farming theme and base the lesson from that.”
For Nancy too, it tackles one of today’s major problems: The rise of obesity in children.
It has been estimated that if current trends continue, one-fifth of boys and one-third of girls will be clinically obese by 2020, but by getting up-close and personal with food production, Nancy thinks it stimulates the thought process about a healthy diet.
“There are so many fad diets and food trends out there these days,” she says.
“Education about food production can allow children to make more detailed choices as they grow up.”
Nancy and her team at Bryson’s already had a strong connection with many schools beforehand, yet this is an event close to her heart and she enjoys being involved in the children’s educational journey.
“I can’t explain the joy you get from seeing these children in this environment,” she says.
“The memories it will create for the kids is just something else.”