Educating the next generation is an important job – and one that lots of farmers do across the nation.

It helps kids understand where their food comes from and opens their eyes to the possibilities of a career in the farming and food sectors.   

Of course, there are practical considerations if you’re considering doing it yourself, but it’s rewarding and can be surprisingly simple to do.

Caroline Stocks reports from three farms where great work is happening – and finds out about an awards scheme highlighting the inspiring work farmers do hosting educational visits by children and other members of the public. 

Alice Pawsey

Alice Pawsey

Alice Pawsey

Alice Pawsey and her husband John farm Shimpling Park Farm, an organic arable enterprise in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Alice hosts 600 reception- to GCSE-aged children on the farm every year.

See also: Tips on hosting an on-farm school visit

When did you start hosting school visits?

I host about 20-25 visits every year for under-16s, and I have been doing it for about 10 years. Over that time about 6,000 children have visited.

There are lots of farm attractions where children can pet animals, but I think it’s valuable for them to come on a real farm and understand the business and scale.

Why is it important to educate children about farming?

Most people don’t engage with farming, but having them here to see it’s a business and could be a career for them is important. We need to think about where the next generation of farmers is coming from, and visits like this can hopefully get them interested in food and how it’s produced.

What preparation is involved?

Ahead of the visit, I always ask the teacher if there’s anything they’d like me to cover so that I can tailor their visit. If they are doing maths, for example, we talk about how much wheat is needed to make bread. The curriculum is complicated, but Farming & Countryside Education (Face) has lots of information on how farming activities can link to it.

What’s been the most rewarding thing? 

Watching children explore things in a way they don’t normally, and in a way which encourages their imagination, is hugely rewarding.

Are there any downsides?

Occasionally you get a freezing cold day and a challenging group, but I’ve never had a group of children who haven’t enjoyed it. To see their faces and read the thank you letters they send afterwards, it’s great.

What do the children say?

We get children from local rural schools, as well as ones from nearby cities, and it’s amazing how little some of them know. A lot of them don’t think we can be a farm because we don’t have any animals.

What health and safety and insurance issues do you need to think about?

We have third-party insurance and schools have to do their own risk assessments. When they arrive, I also get the children to do their own risk assessments. It gets them to engage with the farm and realise not everything is safe.

Handwashing is very important, so I turn it into a game where they learn how doctors scrub down. I also have a whistle which I blow when I want them to be still – it ensures I can get their attention quickly, which is important if something goes wrong.

Any tips for someone hosting a school visit?

Face has lots of guides to help you host visits, but it’s also worth talking to other farmers who host schools. You have to learn to be flexible too – some children will have an hour’s-worth of questions about a tractor, others will lose interest in 10 minutes.

Nina Hatch

Nina Hatch

Nina Hatch

Nina Hatch is the centre manager at Mount Pleasant School Farm, a 200-head dairy unit and education centre in Forhill, Birmingham. Working alongside farmers Emma and Peter Charles, Nina has hosted thousands of children since she started working there almost 30 years ago.

When did you start hosting school visits?

The farm first started hosting school visits in 1972. It’s owned by the Bourneville Village Trust, and it was part of the original tenancy agreement that there would be school visits here.

Why is it important to educate children about farming?

Children can watch a video about how their food is produced, but it’s not the same as getting out on a farm and seeing exactly where it comes from.

Here they can see the cows eat the grass, see where they are milked and watch the tanker collect the milk. It helps them to put the links together.

What preparation is involved? 

Every visit is tied to curriculum work, so if the children are learning about a particular topic in the classroom their visit has to link to that.

I always ask the teacher about their topic and tailor the visit.

What’s the most rewarding thing?

It has to be the reactions of the children, and knowing there are so many of them who have a small insight into where the food on their plate comes from thanks to us.

Nina Hatch stands next to two posters

Nina Hatch

What do the children say? 

Some are amazed that the farmer lives in a house like theirs; they don’t realise that they have ordinary lives as well as being farmers.

They don’t realise how big things are going to be, either.

We have some pigs and the children expect them to be like Peppa Pig – they’re amazed that they are much bigger and aren’t quite as clean.

What health and safety and insurance issues do you need to think about?

We have public liability insurance and we meet all of the guidelines for taking children onto farms and animal sites.

We have excellent handwashing facilities and talk to teachers in advance about the need to wash hands between feeding animals and moving to different parts of the farm.

Any tips for someone hosting a school visit?

If you can tick the boxes on the teacher’s risk assessment by having handwashing facilities, toilets and a sheltered area, that’s an important first step.

You then need to talk to the teachers about what they want from the visit, and turn it around to what you can offer. If you think you’re going to host regular visits, it’s worth thinking about Countryside Educational (Cevas) farmer training, which helps farmers prepare for school visits.

John Alpe

John Alpe runs New Laund Farm, a 40ha sheep and dairy unit in Whitewell, Clitheroe. John has hosted more than 500 children, and also visits local schools to talk about agriculture.

When did you start hosting school visits?

We started in 2002 as part of the educational access element of our stewardship agreement. We give tours on a tractor and trailer and show them what’s happening. I also go into schools and give presentations, and we hold disabled access days.

Why is it important to educate children about farming?

It gives them an understanding of what goes on behind the food they buy in supermarkets – not just in terms of production, but also in terms of the environmental work that goes into it. It’s also an opportunity to give kids the idea of farming as a career. 

What preparation is involved?

Face, Linking Environment and Food (Leaf) and Natural England were really helpful in providing the information we needed at the beginning. Very often teachers will go to Face or Leaf with specific requirements around the curriculum, and they will be directed to us because we’re able to help.

What’s the most rewarding thing?

I enjoy all of the visits, but I find hosting children with special needs the most rewarding. You don’t actually need to do much to make a big impact on them – it’s about taking the time to talk to them and explain what they are looking at.

Are there any downsides?

No, I love doing it.

What do the children say?

They ask some blunt questions, but I always make sure I answer them honestly. I don’t sugarcoat the fact that the animals are for meat production. I find once I explain it, it takes the sting out of their perceptions.

What health and safety and insurance issues do you need to think about? 

We have public liability insurance, and I also worked with Leaf on a risk profile so we could identify areas of risk on the farm. We have an outbuilding especially for farm visits where we’ve got handwashing facilities and toilets, and we also have disabled access areas so people in wheelchairs can get around easily.

Any tips for someone hosting a school visit?

Just have a go. Open Farm Sunday is a perfect place to start as it’s just one day. If you like it and want to go further, talk to Face or Leaf as they have lots of advice and information.

Hosting farm visits? Enter the Bayer/Farming & Countryside Education awards

The Bayer/Farming & Countryside Education (Face) Awards aim to highlight the inspiring work farmers do when hosting educational visits by children and other members of the public, says Alice Turnbull, who organises them for Bayer.

“In previous awards we have had some wonderful examples of farmers making a difference in children’s lives, and helping to explain where their food comes from and promoting agriculture as a possible career.”

There are five categories – access, biodiversity, future of farming champion, farm school partnership and inspiring educator – with entries by written application, which can be backed up by a two-minute video.

Partnering with the education charity Face on these awards is a core part of Bayer’s FarmEd strategy, which aims to raise awareness of where food comes from, promote agricultural careers, support and train future farmers or agronomists, and inspire young people to make a difference.

Entries are now open until April for the eighth awards. More information and an entry form can be found on Bayer’s website.