Immersing their arms in a bag of oilseed rape seeds, holding worms used in organic farming, stroking cows and alpacas, watching huge tractors being driven across a field, making sausages and grinding flour - the Essex Schools Food and Farming Day was a hands-on experience for the 3,000 schoolchildren who visited Writtle College today
More than 60 schools from across the county attended the Essex Agricultural Society event – now in its eighth year - to discover where their food comes from and to find out more about farming.
For many schoolchildren it was their first experience of farm life, giving them an exciting 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.
The children could put their hands under a crop sprayer shooting out water, find out about turkey-rearing, see recently-hatched chicks and peer inside a bee hive. They found out about the production of sugar in East Anglia, biological pest control on crops, how to save water and vegetable wholesalers!
Dr Stephen Waite, Principal of Writtle College, said: “The College is extremely happy to be involved with this event alongside Essex Agricultural Society. It is a fantastic day and provides over 3,000 local schoolchildren with an opportunity to understand, perhaps for the first time, where and how their food is produced.
“Hopefully, this hands-one event will sow the seed of an idea, encouraging them to find out more about farming, their environment and even think about a career in the land-based sector. Too few people appreciate how important these industries are to the UK and the range of challenging, exciting and well-paid careers they offer.”
The event was split into a farm trail around five zones – machinery, crops, livestock, countryside & environment and food. Each zone encompassed a key element of the food and farming story with fun, interactive exhibits provided by mainly Essex organisations and businesses.
Among the animals in the livestock zone were dairy cows, chicks, pigs, sheep, turkeys and alpacas, with a sheep-shearing show outside.
In the food zone, children were shown how Wilkin & Son makes its world-famous jams from strawberries, while teachers could be nominated to taste oysters and children could find out about the cereal journey.
Combine harvesters, seed drills and tractors were the main attractions of the Machinery zone, with farmers telling the children about the capability of the huge machines.
In the Countryside and Environment zone, children could get up-close to Common Kestrels, wear a bee suit, hold a piece of honeycomb and learn about the movement of water by using an Archimedes Screw and shifting grains of plastic.
In the Crops zone, pupils could grind flour, see how worms turn natural rubbish into soil, take a plant identification quiz with the RHS, crush oilseed rape seeds into oil and guess how many sugar beets make one bag of sugar (6-7!). They could don 3D glasses to see the head of a flea beetle taken by an electron microscope, see a crop sprayer spraying water, hold models showing the molecular construction of pesticides and herbicides, look through test tubes at insects bred in Clacton for biological control, and taste onions grown locally for a supermarket chain.
The aim of the annual fun and educational event is to bring children ‘out of the classroom’ and give them a better understanding of the food chain and the role played by farmers in Essex, as well as raising awareness of the countryside, environmental issues and healthy eating.
Carly Williams, Key Stage 2 leader and Year 6 teacher at Wyburns Primary School in Rayleigh, which had 93 children at the event, said: “This event is something really different and unusual for the children to experience. It gives them an understanding of where their food comes from and makes them appreciate that it doesn’t just appear in the supermarket. The event also feeds into our work on healthy eating and we will be following it up with writing activities tomorrow. The children were excited to get out of the classroom and it’s wonderful seeing them gain some practical learning.”
Ceyhan Djevat, teacher at Lincewood Primary School in Langdon Hills, said: “The children are loving it! I’m hoping they will have more awareness about where their food comes from and what goes into producing their food.”
Phoebe Coutts, nine, from Lincewood, said: “I found it interesting looking at the chicks as they are so cute! I liked the pigs too but they were a bit smelly!”
Hannah Smith, a teacher from King’s Ford Primary School in Colchester, said: “It’s a really exciting day and the children are really enjoying it. We’ve had some revelations today! They were interested to find out where pork, gammon and bacon come from.”
Nigel King, from Imperial Birds of Prey Academy, said: “I have had three questions about the Common Kestrels today: ‘why has it got a hat on?’; ‘Is it real?’; and ‘what are they’!”
Hannah Marriage, from Marriage’s Millers, said: “We are asking the children to think about where their breakfast comes from and showing them that a lot comes from wheat - their cereal, bagels and croissants. We have a mini milling wheel that they can turn so they can make wholemeal flour. We’re also showing them that the by-product is used for animal feed, given to pigs and chickens which produce the bacon and eggs for breakfast.”
The event involved 300 farmers and Writtle College staff with 500 teachers and assistants visiting with the schoolchildren. Volunteer stewards guided 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.
Guy Smith, Essex Agricultural Society spokesman, local farmer and Vice President of the National Farmers Union, said: “It was another great day at Writtle College. What I like best about this occasion is the look on the children's faces when they get close enough to farm animals to be able to smell them or when they get close enough to a combine harvester to feel the ground rumble beneath their feet. These are vivid and memorable experiences that leave a lasting impression and help them remember where their food comes from.”
The exhibitors for 2015 include:
• Ernest Doe
• NFU Food and Farming Roadshow
• Premium Crops Ltd
• Royal Horticultural Society
• Stourgarden Ltd – supplier of East Anglian onions to Tesco
• S Thorogood & Sons vegetable wholesaler
• W & H Marriage & Sons – flour millers
• Syngenta – agri chemicals and seeds
• South East Essex Organic Gardeners
• British Sugar plc
• Fairfields Farm Crisps
• Kelly Turkeys Ltd
• John Smith
• Writtle College farm
• Butlers Farm
• Marsh Farm, Basildon - cows
• Faccenda - chicks
• Wilkin and Sons
• Great Garnetts Farm
• Richard Haward Oysters
• Barleylands Education Team
• The Great British Afternoon Tea
• Imperial Birds of Prey Academy
• Essex Wildlife Trust
• Wilderness Foundation UK (Chatham Green Project)
• Essex & Suffolk Water
• Anglian Water
• Lee Valley Park
• City of London Corporation
• Chelmsford Beekeepers
• Environment Agency
• Writtle College hosts the day and provides equipment, livestock and staff stewards.
• The event is organised by Essex Agricultural Society and would not take place without the generosity of our sponsors. We would like to thank:
o Essex County Council
o The Perry Foundation
o NFU Members Trust
o Felix Cobbold Thornley Trust.
o Chadacre Agricultural Trust
o Rural Community Council of Essex
o Ernest Doe
o Atlas Fram
o Chelmsford City Council
o Essex Community Foundation
o Essex and Suffolk Water
• The organising committee would also like to thank the many farmers stewards, volunteers and exhibitors who give up their time to support the event.