For many schoolchildren it is their first experience of farm life, giving them an opportunity to see livestock up close, hear the thunderous roar of a combine harvester and taste farm produce after learning of its journey from field to fork.
This year’s Essex Schools Food and Farming Day next Thursday 5 June will give more than 3,000 primary schoolchildren a hands-on, senses-stoked experience of the countryside.
Hosted at Writtle College, the interactive event - now in its seventh year - is organised by Essex Agricultural Society in partnership with the College and Essex County Council.
Since the first event in 2008, over 18,000 children have visited the College to learn where their food comes from. With over 500 children on the waiting list this year, it is clearly a fixture on the schools calendar and extremely popular.
Rosemary Padfield, chair of the event’s steering group, said: “We are thrilled that this event is so embedded into the schools’ diary that within weeks of us announcing the date last autumn we were heavily oversubscribed. This year our event coincides with Healthy Eating Week, which is something we, as producers, are passionate about, so for us it’s brilliant timing.
“For those of us organising this day it is heart-warming how schools are keen to come to learn how Essex farmers manage the countryside and what crops we grow to help feed ever-growing populations. I feel privileged that as a farmer I work in a rare industry where schools and schoolchildren have such a keen appetite to learn about what I do. I am sure there are few industries which can say that.
“As farmers we are involved in the basics of life - producing food and being custodians of the countryside. Over 70% of Essex is rural and grows a high percentage of the crops grown in England so as farmers we appreciate everything we do can be seen by those living around our farm, which is why we are all passionate about explaining our work to schools and the wider community. What better way to harness the curiosity of children than to teach them through an interactive and fun Essex Schools Food and Farming Day.
“I am so proud that fellow farmers and allied industries rally around us to help with this day volunteering to either exhibit or act as a steward to help the children make the best of their visit. They are all so passionate about our industry that they are keen to help the children learn and think about the environment they live in, encouraging them to ask questions about what they see.”
The event is split into a farm trail around five zones – machinery, crops, livestock, countryside & environment and food. Each zone encompasses a key element of the food and farming story with fun, interactive exhibits provided by mainly Essex organisations and businesses featuring hand-on activities like tasting local produce; identifying vegetables fruits and seeds; a sheep-shearing demonstration; meeting a cow and her calf; seeing how sausages are made; discovering where flour comes from and seeing how farm machinery has developed over the years with a showcase of farm machinery.
The event involves 300 farmers and Writtle College staff with 500 teachers and assistants visiting with the schoolchildren. Volunteer stewards guide small groups of the eight to 11-year-olds through the various activities, giving pupils direct contact with members of the local food and farming community.
Karen Watson, Essex Agricultural Society School Liaison Officer, said: “We are very proud to be able to give children the chance to leave the classroom and take part in this extremely fun, educational day where we aim to improve their understanding of where their food comes from, the work our wonderful Essex farmers do to put food on all our plates, and how it is grown.
“The visit really gets our young visitors thinking about their food; fresh, good quality ingredients; and the tasty nutritious produce they turn into.
“We hope they all leave with a greater appreciation for the great outdoors, gaining an understanding of the importance of farming, both in supplying food and protecting wildlife within its natural habitat.”
Writtle College Principal Dr Stephen Waite said: “Last year was the first Essex Schools Food and Farming Day I attended and I left feeling very proud that Writtle College plays a key role in such a popular, enjoyable and enriching event. It was obvious that the children who attended loved the hands on, interactive nature of the day and were inspired to learn more about the countryside, farming and food production. I am very much looking forward to this year’s event.”