Young entrepreneurs

PUBLISHED: 15:10 08 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013

Georgia Matthews learning about the farming business

Georgia Matthews learning about the farming business

The children at Madley primary school have been learning to run their own farming businesses. Judie Kellie reports.

The children at Madley primary school have been learning to run their own farming businesses. Judie Kellie reports.

" It began last year during the Year of Food and Farming, when we 'adopted' a local farmer, and began learning about his business," says headteacher Lee Batstone. Then we charged the children to start, sustain and develop a business of their own."

"We have a surprising mix of children here: some travel in from Hereford, and many have moved here from other parts of the country. Of 173 pupils, fewer than 20% have any direct link with farming. We wanted to encourage an understanding of our locality."

In Madley, learning about the farming business was a great success.

Farmer Owen Whittall doesn't get many visitors, but he knows the importance of engaging with the next generation, and he is one of a growing group of farmers who see it as a vital part of their work.

After an initial visit to the classroom he guided 34 very lively nine- and ten-year-olds round his farm, explaining patiently and graphically the economics, science, and engineering involved in his job. There was even a bit of sex and politics!

They came away knowing that a dustbin bag of seed yields a trailer load of wheat, that the price of animal feed has soared; they learned about the value of the right genetic mix in animal breeding, health and safety on the farm, the likelihood of food shortages and the threat of climate change.

"After our visit to Owen we wanted to start our own business," says nine-year-old Martin Davies, "and find out just how difficult growing and selling our food was."

The children organised themselves into three groups, produced business plans, elected leaders, designed plots in the school playground and selected their crops. Potatoes were the most popular.

"First we had to do all the writing and planning, and then we cleared all the stones and prepared the beds. My group grew potatoes, carrots and radishes too. We found out we couldn't water in the hot weather," says Fiona Shearer, aged nine, "and we used cartons and water bottles to protect the plants and to warm the soil up, like they do with polytunnels. We had trouble with rabbits but we didn't spray our crops: we thought organic would be better."

Each group had £20 to spend but one group kept back some money for fertiliser.

Class teacher Charity Shackelford oversaw the academic side of the enterprise. "Only one of my class of 34 comes from a farming family so we could see the value of reconnecting them with the land, but it had to be linked to mainstream learning."

"We saw it as putting maths into context, learning across subjects; and they loved the enterprise angle. Choosing crops according to their yield, measuring out the plots, planning the ratio of seed to plot, designing stalls, flyers and sandwich boards to sell their produce locally and researching prices, not to mention the actual weighing and counting the profits. A huge amount of maths came into it."

"The hard work and enthusiasm of the children really surprised me. No school time was used: it was all done in breaks and lunchtime by the children themselves. And when they pulled out their plants and found carrots, potatoes and radishes on the end it was like striking gold."

Every one of the groups made a profit - one doubled its money - and they are now re-investing in next year's crops, carefully noting the successes and failures and amending their plans accordingly. By the end of next season they will have enough money to contribute to a local community project of their choice.

"The changes in demography in rural areas are far-reaching," said the government's food and farming champion Sir Don Curry."We shouldn't make the assumption that country children know about the land.

Most schools have somewhere they can dig a patch or put a raised bed. School farms would be wonderful but this is the next best thing and is possible for everyone."

"Children who may not be academic can really get involved in practical schemes of this sort. Where the classroom has failed, practical agriculture can offer so much.

Headteacher Lee Batsone agrees:

"These are skills for life, and some of the least able children have benefited the most. Overall there was a profit of 127 and next year the children will decide themselves how best to spend the money to benefit their community."

"They have enjoyed themselves, learned a great deal and, in true entrepreneurial spirit, want to expand their businesses. That's a result!"

A follow up campaign called Think Food and Farming is already under way with a special section for schools,

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