Spring is never a quiet time when you have 200 ewes to lamb – and it is busier still when you have hordes of schoolchildren watching your every move. But Nottinghamshire farmer David Rose wouldn’t have it any other way.
David, who runs 260ha at Home Farm, Screveton, welcomes hundreds of visitors to his farm every year, the majority of whom are children from local schools.
See also: Get ready now for Open Farm Sunday
For him it is an opportunity to get youngsters excited about food and how it is produced, creating a connection between them and agriculture from an early age.
And in the 10 years since he started encouraging people to visit his farm, he has helped countless young adults take their first steps into a career in agriculture.
David’s grandfather first started farming in 1933, producing milk, fruit and vegetables across 36ha.
Over time the farm evolved, at one point becoming part of a 2,400ha co-operative David ran with a group of other local farmers. But in 2012 he decided he wanted to change of direction.
“I wanted to do more environmental management and farm to the Leaf principles, and others wanted to move on to other opportunities, so we decided the time was right to split up the group.”
Top tips for farmer hosts
It may seem daunting, but opening your farm gates to visitors needn’t be difficult, especially if you prepare properly from the outset, says David. Here are his seven top tips:
- Have the right staff involved. “You need to have a family member or a worker who really wants to run the project and enjoys talking to young people. If you don’t like children, it will become a chore rather than a pleasure.”
- Get some training. “Get involved with Open Farm Sunday first to take advantage of the training they offer and to check that you actually enjoy showing people around the farm.”
- Don’t worry too much about your facilities. “As long as you have a barn, some toilets and wash facilities, then you have all you need.”
- Link up with other farmers. “If you really don’t have facilities to host children, then work with other farmers who do. We have a trailer that we use to pick up local schoolchildren, and that’s something we could share with other farmers. Think about what is available to you and how it might be used by others.”
- Visit other farms to see what they are doing. “You don’t need to copy everyone else, just work out what best suits you. People think that not all farms are suited to it, but even arable farms have something of interest.”
- Explain things simply. “Don’t use complex or technical terms. Think about the language you use and speak in a way that the general public will understand.”
- Try to fit around the curriculum. “We have staff who work with teachers and with Face to devise workshops that fit in with the curriculum. We also host a teachers’ meeting where we talk about what we are doing on the farm and work together to plan things around the curriculum for the year.”
His move away from the co-operative coincided with being asked to take part in a project called Catapulting Kids, which was funded by a regional development agency.
“We had a group of 14- to 16-year-olds who came out on to the farm once a week to work with us,” he says.
“A lot of the children we were working with were finding academic education quite difficult. They were being disruptive and had lost self-esteem. So the idea was that through farming we could try to rebuild their confidence.”
Change for the better
Over the course of a year, working on the farm changed the youngsters dramatically, David says.
“It was phenomenal to see the change in their characters, I was incredibly proud of them.
“There is a lot of education going on in farming, but the majority is aimed at primary children. It’s important to get more of a link with secondary-school children.”
Of the 12 children on the scheme, four decided they wanted to get more involved in agriculture.
“The problem was we couldn’t get them to a level where they could go on to further education,” David says. “So in 2011 we decided to build the Ecocentre.”
The Ecocentre is facility where educational activities for children of all ages can take place on site. Run alongside the main farm as a social enterprise, it is funded through Higher Level Stewardship and by financial support from a local holistic health trust.
The centre started to collaborate with Dart, a work-based training scheme, and now runs apprenticeships in skills including livestock farming and arboriculture, as well as offering work experience to secondary-school children.
“The centre helped join up a lot of other opportunities through schools and youth employment, and offers a range of experiences,” David adds.
“We have older school kids in to teach the to cook, so that they understand what goes into their food and they learn to value it more.
“Two hundred or so secondary-school kids come through every year and it has been great.”
It was this work with older children that saw the farm receive the Countryside Careers Award in the 2013 Bayer/Face Awards.
To have achieved so much in less than five years may seem difficult for others to emulate, but David says every farm has something to offer children and young adults.
“If we want people to understand the value of food, they have to understand how it is produced.
“With livestock we can show how we care for the animals, from conception to slaughter, and that needs to be appreciated so that people will understand the production process, value what we’re doing and then go and seek out our food.
“People think that getting involved with education is a niche only for small farms who want to diversify,” he adds. “But what we do can be done on large livestock or arable farms too.”
Aside being hugely enjoyable, David says opening his farm to visitors has also been beneficial to his business.
“Through focusing on the education, environmental and social elements of farming I was able to become a Leaf marque farmer, which has given me an extra £15/t for my oilseed rape.
“On more than 300-500t/year of rape, that’s a lot of money, and it shows environmental farming can pay,” he says.
The huge number of visitors to his farm also brings financial benefits. As well as eating at the on-site café, they buy the farm’s produce – including award-winning sausages from the farm’s rare breed pigs.
“I have managed to cut out the middleman by being able to sell directly to consumers, which means I can offer my lamb and pork at a fair price,” David says.
“They get a good deal too, so they keep coming back. It works for all of us.”
The Bayer/Face Awards are designed to highlight the outstanding contribution farmers such as David Rose make in helping children learn about food, farming and the natural environment.
“This year’s awards have five categories, which cover areas such as encouraging access on farm for children who have special needs or are disadvantaged, to highlighting biodiversity or building links with schools,” says Bayer CropScience’s Julian Little.
The closing date for entries is Friday 17 April. Find out more about the Bayer/Face Awards.