As many of you know, I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up on a farm. To have experienced those practical lessons of managing the land, realising the responsibility that animals are relying on us to survive and all that comes with those tough early lessons of life and death. Plus you can’t beat that feeling of satisfaction after eating a large bowl of casserole and mash next to a roaring fire after a hard day’s work out in the cold. These lessons gave me the knowledge that I believe has set me up in life. They’re not things that could have been explained to me by anyone else.
So whenever I meet someone who has been fortunate enough to have been brought up in the same way and gone through the same things, I feel an enormous amount of common ground with them, having shared the growing-up-in-the-farm-school-of-life scenario. And it always warms my heart when I hear of a school that has decided to do its best to bring those experiences to its pupils by setting up a school farm.
I’ve witnessed beekeeping beside playgrounds, newborn lambs on playing fields and free-range chickens in school vegetable patches. All of these schools had a similar happy and respectful vibe.
For as long as I can remember, we have delivered bales of our hay to a school farm in Durham. It was the first one I’d seen but I quickly recognised its benefits, not in a ‘count the eggs for maths class’ way, but purely for allowing pupils to get close to animals, share their space, feel their auras, observe their quirks and work out why they do what they do. It’s that simple to me – just give children the opportunity to enjoy the company of animals.
School farms can provide children with practical and fascinating life lessons
A couple of weeks ago I went to a school that took this to the extreme. It was actually the reason why the school was set up in the first place. Its founder Cecil Reddie believed passionately in these farming life skills and how they can shape the leaders of tomorrow. Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire was set up in the late 1800s yet the concept still remains the same today, with its pupils – from two years old up to sixth formers – having experiences on the farm daily.
One thing that’s clear to anyone who’s familiar with keeping animals, is that the workload never seems to cease. The teachers and individuals involved are working incredibly hard to bring those experiences to the pupils as farm life goes on, even during school holidays. And I applaud them for doing all they can to help the next generation.