The Co-operative Group is the first food retailer to show its support for the Year of Food and Farming by becoming a major sponsor, ahead of the project launch on 12 September this year.

The community-based retailer, which has 1660 food stores and is Britain’s largest farmer, is providing £250,000 worth of support for the project that will enable schools to visit local farms. The programme aims to ensure that all primary school children across the UK are offered the opportunity to visit a farm to find out where their food comes from.

Chief executive of Co-operative Food Retail, Guy McCracken, commented: “As a food retailer and farmer, we are passionate about the food we sell in our stores and grow on our farms. We want the next generation of consumers to be equally concerned about the integrity of the food they eat. That is why we are keen to support the Year of Food and Farming.”

The Co-operative Group is unique among food retailers as it also owns a farming business, The Co-operative Farms, which grows a range of products which are supplied to Co-op stores.

Schools have been visiting one of its farms in Stoughton, Leicestershire, since 2005, where an education programme teaches children about how crops are grown, how to turn them into food, and the importance of looking after the environment.

The Co-operative Group’s support will help to set up an online “megamap”, to go live in September.

This will display all the schools and farms that are planning to take part. Schools will have a “School Space” to share their ideas and students’ work, and participating farms will have their own “Food and Farming Field” to showcase what they can offer in terms of visits and resources.

The Group’s sponsorship also provides guidance and support for farmers who wish to be involved in the Year, and tailor-made curriculum materials for schools.

As part of its sponsorship for the Year of Food and Farming, the Group is providing in-kind support by promoting the scheme through its network of food stores and encouraging store colleagues to support link-ups between local farms and schools.

Awareness of the campaign will also be raised by engaging more than 2 million customer members of The Co-operative Group.

Christine Tacon, general manager of The Co-operative Farms, said: “As a farming business, we take great care over the food we produce. We have invested in growing methods which reduce pesticide use, and actively encourage wildlife on farms. Our support for the Year of Food and Farming is based on our belief in the importance of educating children about growing food responsibly from a young age.”