Last Monday we arranged a "day on the farm" experience for 12 schoolchildren from Food Ambassadors from Wynstream Primary School in Exeter. Initially, the children had to ‘pitch for the job’ and get selected to become their school's official ‘food ambassadors’. This meant leaving the classroom and learning about food, farming, sustainability, waste, recycling and the environment, all under the watchful eye and incredibly inspirational guidance of Angela Redmond, their teacher.
More than anything we wanted the food ambassadors to understand that food IS life... What you eat really matters!
It quickly became evident that each of the children had different instincts and reactions to what we showed them. Gathering leaves and flowers from our 400-year-old hedgerows, some were very happy to grasp the nettle, literally, and be brave and bold, whilst others were excited by the scent of the honeysuckle!
We talked about the history of our wonderful Devon landscape and the lanes flanked by 2-3 metre wide hedges; the stark contrast between the Iron-age track, the Medieval roadway for horse and carriage, and the traffic flashing by on the motorway in the valley. Stories of villains hanging at " gibbet cross" and peering down into the ancient well at the top of the farm sparked some fertile imagination.
Several of the children worked Fly to gather sheep into the handling pens and then all of them looked on intently at the mouths of the sheep to learn about their age, how their stomachs work and what "chewing the cud" is all about! And then with the sweep net, we captured dozens of insects of all shapes, colours and sizes from the edge of the meadow, and talked about the biodiversity of the countryside... as farmers, we must have huge respect for the natural cycle and the way we farm our animals is a vital link in a truly healthy, sustainable biodiverse landscape.
We talked about clover, fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, and then dug deep into the muck heap to understand the process of natural composting (by taking its temperature!) and looked inside a cowpat, and the children quickly changed from initially feeling squeamish to understanding that for thousands of insects it was food, health and life. There was also a bit of maths for them trying to work out the difference in size between live sheep, Saddleback pigs and big Red Ruby bullocks we stood close to, as they mob-grazed the herb-rich grassland.
There was an excited and inspirational approach to making their own burgers from Red Ruby mince, mixed with their hand-picked choices from the herb garden. Burgers cooked simply on the firepit, just as the sausages had been earlier in the day. And their day at the farm ended as they tossed some windfall apples to the Saddleback pigs, leaving them in no doubt about the link between live animals, landscape and the food they eat.
For Henri and me it proved to be an exciting and inspiring day. We hope that the ambassadors do indeed inspire their peers because of their experience, and we certainly hope that our leaders in education will increasingly empower teachers like Angela to work their magic on the children who really thrive outside the classroom!