I usually try to resist bragging about the pre-eminence of my county of Norfolk on matters agricultural.
The fact is there is little need to remind anyone that people like Turnip Townshend and Coke of Norfolk were leaders of the Agricultural Revolution of the late 18th century and that they not only originated new and enlightened farming systems, but were instrumental in ensuring their discoveries were communicated to all who cared to listen.
But they were only the first of many pioneers produced by my county. More recently, Sir John Hammond, another Norfolk man, invented artificial insemination. Later still, John Bingham, who still farms here, became Britain’s most successful wheat breeder. And the story continues, reaching to contemporary times.
It may not appear at first sight to be an achievement of the same magnitude as those mentioned above, but the first “Spring Fling” held on the Norfolk Showground 12 years ago was also pioneering and may eventually deliver almost as much benefit to today’s farmers as rotational farming and advanced breeding techniques did in the past.
The idea behind it was to provide a day out for school children on their Easter Holidays together with parents and or grandparents at their wits end wondering how to fill the time before school began again.
From the start, it was also recognised as a fun opportunity to inform the children – and the adults behind them – about farming and its contribution to their wellbeing.
It was the joint inspiration of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and the Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk’s daily newspaper. It brought together a host of local organisations and individuals who put on interactive displays and competitions in which the kids could participate. The emphasis was on producing exhibits that could be touched, tasted and felt by enthusiastic and energetic kids.
Spring Fling has never parted from that concept and it remains as successful today as it was then. The only difference is there’s much more of it.
Last week, for instance, more than 5,000 young people enjoyed a fantastic day (for them if not for farm crops as the temperature rose to 23C (with not a drop of rain in sight) at the Norfolk Showground. They were able to watch cows being milked, taste the milk and various types of cheese, including some made from goats milk, watch ice cream being made, create dough from flour and water, handle newly hatched turkey chicks, make collages from a wide variety of farm seeds, ride a mechanical race horse and much more.
And when they’d had enough of those activities they could ride on tractor-drawn trailers across the showground where there were sheepdog demonstrations, thatching displays, ferrets, rabbits, fancy poultry, sit in a tractor cab, learn about potatoes and so on. And most of those “entertainments” contained subtle lessons on the role of UK farming and the countryside in modern society for both children and those caring for them. The day ended, as always, with a hog roast for all, the cost of which was included in the modest entry fee.
Over the years Spring Fling has become bigger and better and this year was the best yet. We’ve welcomed representatives of many other agricultural shows to see what we do in Norfolk and most have gone back and done something similar. It’s all down to Norfolk’s magnanimous nature. And, to be serious for a moment, we believe it’s an important contribution to the marketing of what we produce and to reconnecting farming to its present and future customers.