Farming in a box

Henk Geertsema finds out why CLA members, The Country Trust, are flying high despite the challenges posed by Covid-19

The Country Trust is best known for creating partnerships between farmers, landowners and farm managers and primary schools, special schools and vulnerable children’s groups, whose youngsters face deprivation or disadvantage.

Every year, the Trust takes around 20,000 children out on farm visits thanks to the generosity of a network of farmer ‘hosts’, many of whom are CLA members, who give up their time to welcome children to their land and share their knowledge.

Recently, The Country Trust was featured on the BBC’s Countryfile, showcasing its work on creating opportunities for children to visit the working countryside. However, with Covid-19, visits to farms have been curtailed, leading the charity to embark on a different approach by taking farms into the classroom instead. The ‘Farm in a Box’ concept involves children utilising a box filled with exciting resources, including farm produce to taste, seeds to touch and plant and experiments to try. Activity cards and outdoor challenges enable children to make vital connections between their lives, their food, their natural surroundings and farming. Every experience is based on a real working farm and is designed to be delivered at school, ideally in an outside space, by teaching staff.

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Each box is accompanied by a short film in which the host farmer welcomes the class and takes them on a virtual tour of their farm. The idea is that the children will then visit the farm when restrictions allow.

Local Country Trust Coordinator Sue Thompson explains the approach the organisation takes: “Having researched teachers’ priorities to help shape the new programme, the Country Trust linked every activity to the curriculum, with language, communication and wellbeing woven through every Farm in a Box day."

The hands-on investigations, exploration and discovery make learning exciting; the children’s understanding of food and farming increases; and their confidence, self-esteem and social interactions are bolstered.

Local Country Trust Coordinator Sue Thompson
Valuing CLA membership

Trust CEO Jill Attenborough says that the organisation has benefited from being a member of the CLA, including access to the expert knowledge and experience of the policy team.

“We have been working hard to ensure that agricultural education is recognised and rewarded as a public good in its own right. We feel incredibly well supported by the CLA. As a charity, we benefit in so many ways, having also received a wonderful grant from the CLA Charitable Trust to support our work.

“We are also very grateful for the sharing of technical webinar wisdom prior to our first webinar for Country Trust host farmers in September, in which CLA President Mark Bridgeman was kind enough to appear.

“We have been delighted to welcome CLA members as new hosts following a recent appeal in the CLA’s North enewsletter. We work nationally, and would welcome any approaches from members interested to become involved.”

Mindrum in a box

Children from GUST School in Ashington, Northumberland, were the first to experience a Farm in a Box in the North East at the end of last year. Sue paired GUST Primary School with CLA farming member and current High Sheriff of Northumberland, Tom Fairfax from Mindrum near Berwick.

Sue Thompson explaining how badgers make their homes underground - Country Trust.jpg
Sue Thompson explaining how badgers make their homes underground

Working together, they created a box filled with interesting resources such as irresistible learning experiences with fresh farm produce to sample, seeds to touch and plant, and experiments to try. As a special treat, farmer Tom Fairfax also sent them some ‘class pets’ in the form of earthworms and cockroaches, plus all the materials and containers to create their perfect habitats.

Primary school teacher Abby Steele wanted to focus on wellbeing and communication skills. She says: “By the time children are referred to us, they have usually faced significant barriers to learning, often resulting in them becoming disengaged with education and suffering with poor self-image.

Speaking of her class’s experience, Abby reflects: “Opportunities like this are incredibly valuable in harnessing children’s curiosity and re-engaging them in learning about the world around us. Farm in a Box enabled all of our pupils to feel successful in their learning and helped to foster a positive and resilient attitude towards challenge.”

Tom says this initiative is an important way to ensure education about the countryside continues: “I am committed to helping young people experience the working countryside and to understand the part they play in the wider farming ecosystem.

“This engagement is a fundamental part of farming life as it is a foundation of the future. The enabling work of The Country Trust helps forge links between children and the industry that will feed them for life. My hope is that some of these links might develop into something greater – when that happens, anything is possible.”

The Country Trust currently works with schools in and around London, Essex, East Anglia, Hampshire, Kent, Sussex, Birmingham and the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire, the North West, North Wales and Northumberland.

Sue concludes: “We are indebted to the CLA for its members’ generosity and the organisation as a whole, which provides such support and is so closely aligned to our ethos and values.”

The Country Trust

Founded in 1978, The Country Trust is the leading national educational charity that brings the working countryside alive for those children least able to access it, whether through disadvantage or disability.

Every year, it supports hundreds of volunteer farmers and landowners to welcome thousands of disadvantaged children from all backgrounds and faiths onto their farms. It has three main activity strands:

  1. Farm discovery – day visits to real working farms and the Farm in a Box initiative
  2. Countryside discovery - residential visits to the countryside
  3. Food discovery – year-long programmes exploring different aspects of growing, cooking and selling food