Farming feature: Children revel in the fun of farming as Essex Schools Food and Farming Day marks 10th milestone

Essex Agricultural Society hosted its10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University C

Essex Agricultural Society hosted its10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University College on Wednesday, June 7. - Credit: Archant

An inspirational event bringing together primary school children from all over Essex took place at Writtle University College this week. Sarah Chambers was at Essex Agricultural Association’s 10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day.

Essex Agricultural Society hosted its10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University C

Essex Agricultural Society hosted its10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University College on Wednesday, June 7. - Credit: Archant

Schools love bringing children to this day, said Bishop of Chelmsford Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell as the 10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day got into full swing this week.

It’s remarkable to reflect that most of the 3,000 children from years 4, 5 and 6 who attended on Wednesday weren’t even born when the first event took place.

Organiser Rosemary Padfield chairs the Essex Agricultural Association (EAS) committee whose hard work has ensured the continued momentum behind the much-praised - and possibly transformative - educational vehicle. It has brought 30,000 children, many from heavily urbanised areas, into contact with the county’s farmers and food processors and with the processes which go into putting their food on the table. For some, it will be the first time they have been on a farm, or within a farming environment.

“It’s hard to think of a more important issue,” said Bishop Cottrell. “Local, sustainable agriculture is hugely important for us as a nation.”

Essex Agricultural Society's 10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University College.

Essex Agricultural Society's 10th Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle University College. - Credit: Archant


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On Tuesday, Rosemary and her team of willing farmer helpers battled through wind and rain during setting up at Writtle University College, which has hosted the day from the outset, in order to ensure the day went ahead as planned, and they were rewarded as the sun slipped through the clouds and the winds abated on cue.

The children were thrilled with what they saw, as they happily milled wheat by hand, watched as huge agricultural machines roared into action on a neighbouring field, and squealed with delight at the sight of young piglets in a pen, as an owl at a birds of prey exhibition looked on.

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To celebrate the 10-year milestone, each attending school was asked to make a scarecrow using recycled materials to be judged on the day.

“They have really entered into the spirit of what we are doing,” said a delighted Rosemary.

Lord Lieutenant of Essex Lord Petre and Simon Dixon-Smith from Essex NFU Trust judging the scarecrow

Lord Lieutenant of Essex Lord Petre and Simon Dixon-Smith from Essex NFU Trust judging the scarecrows. Picture: PAUL STARR - Credit: Archant

Their delightful creations were put on display beside the exhibition areas, each of which focused on a different aspect of the food story. with five zones under the headings Machinery, Crops, Livestock, Countryside & Environment and Food.

Weather being the big unknown, Rosemary and the team had contingency plans in place as winds of up to 40mph were predicted. “We are well and truly covered,” she said. “We got very wet yesterday (during setting up).” But in the end, and much to their relief, the June sun prevailed.

Rosemary has been involved in the event since the start, as have many of the other businesses, organisations and volunteers who all strive to make the day a success, including Essex County Council, which supports it.

“The idea of the day is to help encourage the children and their teachers and their parents to have an idea of what we do as farmers in Essex, how we care for the environment we live in and have an idea of how that food gets on their plates,” she said.

Scarecrows at Essex Schools Food and Farming Day. Picture: PAUL STARR

Scarecrows at Essex Schools Food and Farming Day. Picture: PAUL STARR - Credit: Archant

“We are in an industry worth £108bn so it’s important to us that we encourage people to buy our products. We employ 3.9m so we are looking at the youngsters to be the people we employ.”

It’s a huge undertaking. The children, from 63 schools, and accompanied by 400 teachers and helpers, were escorted by about 150 farmer stewards, and around 40 Writtle staff were on hand to ensure things went smoothly.

“I think the most important thing today is the children,” said Councillor John Aldridge, chairman of Essex County Council.

“I would just like to thank the children. They are the future.”

Out on the stands, Ray Bowler, who runs an agricultural apprentice scheme at Writtle, was looking after the piglet pen. He has been involved from the start, and each year has seen the event go from strength to strength. “It’s fantastic,” he said.

Lee Stiles, secretary of Lea Valley Growers Association, said they had decided to join exhibitors because they were impressed with what they saw on a visit last year. Few people in Essex knew that their produce, including aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, was grown on their doorstep, he said.

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