YFC members will be under the spotlight this month as National Young Farmers Week aims to raise awareness to the wider public and boost their profile, as well as their numbers. Alice Singleton reports.
With the second annual National Young Farmers Week set to kick off on September 19, Young Farmers across England and Wales are being urged to promote their federation and recruit new members.
The week, which runs from September 19 to 25, is part of NFYFC’s recruitment and retention campaign, and is dedicated to telling the public just how great it is to be a YFC member.
Each weekday will consist of a theme relating to opportunities available to all NFYFC members.
These range from agriculture and rural issues, to travelling, competitions, training and development and social and leisure.
Stories will be shared on social media and the NFYFC website of YFC members who have benefitted from these opportunities, and clubs are encouraged to join in by using the hashtags #NationalYoungFarmersWeek and #ThanksToYFC.
Radio 1 DJ and NFYFC ambassador Chris Stark said National Young Farmers Week is about focusing on what makes you ‘proud to be a Young Farmer’.
He says: “Encouraging people to join this amazing community who are not necessarily working in the fields is basically what Scott [Mills, fellow Radio 1 DJ and NFYFC ambassador] and I are hoping to represent.
“During National Young Farmers Week, focus on what makes you really proud about being a Young Farmer and represent what you love about it through all the fun stuff you do.”
Thousands of farmers have made their way through Young Farmers Clubs since the first club started almost a century ago.
In an industry hammered with negativity and uncertainty about the future, YFCs show no sign of disappearing, with the latest club opening in England in 2014.
Members of Culm Valley YFC heading off to Scotland on a club exchange
Original members of Hemyock Calf Club
Many Young Farmers Clubs started life as calf clubs – the first of which was Hemyock Calf Club, Devon.
This started in 1921 when heifer calves were distributed to young people who would take the animal to their family farm, bring it up, then show the calf in an annual show and sale.
What started life as a calf club with just 20 members 95 years ago has gone on to become the starting block for what is now the biggest rural youth organisation in the country.
By 1925, there were 14 agricultural clubs running throughout the country, with a combined membership of 322.
It was around this time representatives from all these clubs came together at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Whitehall, London, to discuss linking the various clubs with general systems of agricultural education. This was the start of the Young Farmers Clubs movement.
Hemyock Calf Club changed its name to Culm Valley YFC in April 1946, and the club now boasts a between 80 and 100 active members.
Culm Valley YFC also has a national chairman to its name, with Chris Manley being the current chairman of NFYFC.
Nick Creasy, Devon YFC county organiser, believes the club still upholds many of the core traditions, including those from its humble beginnings as a calf club.
He says: “Culm Valley still has its annual show and sale which is specific to the club.
“Members register an animal onto the club scheme with Culm Valley YFC eartags and passports and rear the animal with their own stock.
“These animals are then shown at the bred and fed class at their show and sale, which is held in April each year.”
But whether it is 1800s or 2016, the fact remains Young Farmers is a valuable asset to rural life throughout the UK.
Nick says: “The thing about Young Farmers which really captures the nation is its sense of comradery. There is such togetherness about rural life and everything in farming.
“If someone needs help with their animals or needs a tree moving after a storm, no matter the situation, members are always there helping each other through good and bad times.”
But while the movement started with competitions purely involving cattle, it has since spread to incorporate all aspects of rural and educational life. Most notably, public speaking.
He says: “I think the main thing which makes Young Farmers different is the speaking competitions.
“Keeping and talking about stock is the cornerstone of public speaking, because if you can speak about your animals or someone else’s, you can speak about all sorts of things.
“Getting your head up and having the confidence to talk to the judge is so important.
“These people are often working alone and feel isolated. They come together and gain confidence and learn to speak.
“This is what Young Farmers is all about and long may it continue.”
Georgia Cheshire - member of Jeskyns YFC
Members of Kent-based Jeskyns YFC
A school farm and YFC closure led one farm volunteer to take matters into her own hands. Knowing first-hand the benefits Young Farmers can give to young people, Alison Atkins decided her local area could not be without a YFC club and, with the help of Emma Stewart, decided to start up a new YFC.
Alison says: “Meopham School Farm and its Young Farmers Club closed in 2013. I had begun volunteering with Meopham School Young Farmers when my daughter started there in 2008.
“The club became a massive focus in my daughter’s life. My quiet and unconfident child built confidence and life skills you are unable to gain within a school curriculum.
“I was employed by the school as assistant farm manager and land-based teaching assistant and was devastated when the new school academy status forced the closure of the farm.
“After the initial shock of redundancy, stock person Emma and I resolved to start up a new club.”
Jeskyns YFC officially opened in January 2014 with about 12 members, half of whom came over from Meopham School YFC.
What started as an environmental-based club, due to its location at Jeskyns Community Woodland, has now evolved to deliver a much broader programme.
The club meets on a Saturday with the programme including working with pedigree Dexter cattle and sheep on a farm in Shorne, conservation tasks, building a sheep flock and working with smallholders in Shorne, including pigs, goats, llamas, sheep and poultry.
Since the club started, its membership has doubled in size, now holding 24 members on its books with an added waiting list.
However, with such a young membership age and most members under the age of 16, the club is currently run by ‘adult leaders’, unlike most Young Farmers Clubs which are run ‘by Young Farmers, for Young Farmers’.
Alison says: “The adult leaders’ vision for the club is members will ultimately grow to take over the club.
“I can already see how this is happening with the older generation supporting the younger.
“Older members are growing in confidence and beginning to feedback on activities they undertake, run training sessions and organise debates.
“It is also an aim of the club to own its own land and livestock.”
Regardless of the age of the club, it cannot be denied YFCs add something to the rural community which would be greatly missed if it was removed.
Alison says: “YFCs are vital to rural youth, as they offer an opportunity for youngsters to connect and socialise.
“Clubs build so many skills to support their development to adults and introduce many moral and ethical issues about how food is produced.
“I became involved in YFC in my 40s and it has been a life changing experience for me.
“This is why I persevered and started up Jeskyns YFC – to give something back to the community.”