Filming on the farm

PUBLISHED: 14:15 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013

Food and farming in schools..

Food and farming in schools..

Julie Jones describes how children in the Kingstone Collaborative Partnership are getting hooked on learning through an innovative liaison between their schools, the local farming community and Hereford based film makers, Catcher Media. Photograph...

Shoppers in Ewyas Harold village centre were surprised, one bright morning last December, to find a crew of ten and eleven-year-olds filming the journey of the humble potato from Bill Quan's farm at Howton, via Marcus Lloyd's 'Old Stables' fish and chip shop in Ewyas Harold, to the arrival of their cooked lunches at the school gates. And the crew who filmed Richard and Bill Sparey as they set about shearing their flock at Demesne Farm in Much Birch last summer were all under ten years old.

Both Ewyas Harold and Much Birch schools are members of Kingstone Collaborative Partnership, which consists of Kingstone High School and its six feeder primaries (the other four being Garway, Kingstone & Thruxton, Madley and Clehonger). All seven schools share the challenges presented to them by their rural locations in the rolling countryside of south Herefordshire. They also have in common visionary head teachers who are committed to turning what some might perceive as rural disadvantage into an educational opportunity.

Hence, their enthusiasm for a 'Food, Farming and Filming' project which aims to give country children the opportunity to explore their rural heritage and discover, at first hand, what modern farming life is all about. The catalyst for the project was the national Year of Food and Farming, launched in September 2007, which aimed, amongst other things, to encourage schools to 'adopt a farmer'. It was through this initiative that Clehonger and Ewyas Harold, as well as Garway, Madley and Much Birch schools, made contact (thanks to some superb 'match making' by Cathy Meredith of Herefordshire Rural Hub) with local farmers and their families.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. A friendship that, last July, enabled pupils from Much Birch to learn the art of winding wool as the Sparey family of Demesne Farm sheared their flock, and led Mark Jones of Yew Tree Farm to share with wide-eyed five-year-olds from Garway how to break open the stem of a stalk of wheat to reveal the spikelet hidden within.

Year 5 and 6 pupils from Ewyas Harold school made several visits to the 300 rolling acres of Rowlestone Court Farm, a working dairy farm which has been farmed by three generations of the Williams family since the 1930s. The current farmer, Mark Williams, explained to them how the pattern of his working day alters according to the necessities of the season.

Lee Batstone, head teacher at Madley, speaks highly of the skills of farmer Owen Whittall of Lower Moccas Farm, whose particular brand of humour and honesty makes farming 'come alive' for the pupils. Yet Owen doesn't shy away from discussing the realities of modern farming. During a July visit to his farm, Year 5 pupils from Madley were confronted with the news that two heifers and a cow had been isolated from the herd as the Whittalls had recently received the news that they were reactors to the TB test and, consequently, would shortly be sent away to be killed. By contrast, on the same day, the same children witnessed the birth of a Limousin cross calf and were overjoyed to be allowed to name her 'Maddy'.

Over the last year or so, the pupils involved in the project have made numerous visits to their adopted farms and, in the words of nine-year-old Owen Goode from Clehonger, "got to see things which not many people get to see". And, despite the pressures of an impossibly busy working day, the farmers, their families and the farm workers have put aside precious time to teach the children about topics as diverse as ice cream making, calving, food miles, bureaucracy, tractors and TB.

Chris Morgan, who has worked at Bowling Green Farm for around twenty years, says "It's nice to see children about the farm. It might encourage them to get into farming. It's hard work, but the pleasure is there in the end product."

The 'end product' will include several short documentary films. Thanks to the UK Film Council's First Light Movies initiative, and funding from the Lottery, the schools have been able to enlist the services of Hereford-based film-makers, Catcher Media, to record the lessons they are learning.

Husband and wife team, Rick and Julia Goldsmith, have worked alongside the schools from the outset to enable the children to capture their experiences through the medium of film. Having devised an outline script of what they wanted their films to be about, the children have worked in small crews, operating camera and sound equipment, directing and assisting. As Mrs Quarrell, class teacher from Clehonger, says, "They've learned so much about the technology, filming techniques and patience needed to put a film together."

The films, depicting modern farming in south Herefordshire as seen through the eyes of the local children, will be premiered in March at The Courtyard in Hereford as part of the annual Borderlines film festival, followed by a programme of community screenings in venues around the participating schools.

But the project will have achieved much more than that. For Mr Harris of Ewyas Harold school it has been a "great opportunity to extend the curriculum, to develop creative thinking and to enrich the children's lives." Head teacher Mrs Lloyd-Williams from Garway is impressed with the way the project has supported the ethos of her school in enabling children to take control of their learning. As the project's youngest participants, her KS1 class proved able to make informed decisions and drive the shape of their film, taking on roles such as director with impressive confidence. "They have developed a real understanding of what it's like to be a farmer and the contribution farmers make to the food on their tables."

At Yew Tree Farm, Mark and Susan Jones have enabled the children to follow the journey quite literally 'from field to fork'. Mark explains how the children have "seen the cows grazing in the fields, watched me milking them in the parlour, joined Sue to make a batch of ice cream in the processing room and then tasted the product!"

Ten-year-old Harry Nevard has enjoyed his lessons on farming: "I love being outdoors, I like learning about farm life, I enjoy the clean air, sights and smells of the country." And nine-year-old Hannah Burnett and her friends were glad to be having lessons outside. "A lot of fresh air is really good for you," she told me.

Thankfully, the farmers seem to have enjoyed themselves too! Rose Sparey speaks of her son Richard's pleasure at working with the children of Much Birch school. And, it seems, the feeling is mutual: Class 5 recently nominated him 'Farmer of the Year'.

Most important, perhaps, is the lasting legacy of liaison between village schools and the agricultural communities in which they are rooted. For Philip Whittal of Bowling Green Farm in Clehonger it's simple: "I'm open to trying to educate children; it's got to help farming and agriculture in the future." Mrs Willimont from Much Birch agrees. "They now know that farming is not just about looking after animals. It's about working with money, being a mechanic, knowing about the weather and also about problem-solving. It's made the children look at their lunch boxes more carefully and consider: Has the food come from Herefordshire? Is it local? Could we have grown it in the garden?"

It seems the project has already gone a long way towards helping these children understand the vital role that agriculture plays in all our futures. As Kieran Baldwin, a 'nearly ten-year-old' from Clehonger, says "I've learned that we wouldn't be able to live without farmers because we wouldn't have any food".

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