Tolleshunt Darcy: Jess takes stock as she becomes apprentice scheme pioneer

EDGE apprentice Jess Dale among the pigs at Wicks Manor Farm

EDGE apprentice Jess Dale among the pigs at Wicks Manor Farm - Credit: Archant

An 18-year-old has become one of the first young people to join a new apprenticeship scheme.

EDGE apprentice Jess Dale with employer Fergus Howie at Wicks Manor Farm

EDGE apprentice Jess Dale with employer Fergus Howie at Wicks Manor Farm - Credit: Archant

Jess Dale, of Tolleshunt Darcy near Maldon, is working and studying under the new EDGE Apprenticeships in Food and Farming programme, an industry-led scheme set to create hundreds of placements over the next two years.

Jess, a former St Benedict’s Catholic College student, started as an apprentice stockperson at Wicks Manor Farm in Tolleshunt Major just over a month ago and is studying for a level three apprenticeship in mixed agriculture. She heard about the scheme at an Easton and Otley College open day.

“Before coming here, I’d never worked with pigs.” she said.

“My grandfather had a farm so I used to spend a lot of time there but I didn’t have a lot of experience.”

“I knew that farming was what I wanted to do. I had been studying for a countyside management course and working on a smallholding when I heard about the EDGE scheme at the Easton and Otley College open day.

“I chose an apprenticeship because I wanted to gain practical experience. At university you get a piece of paper, but don’t necessarily get the practical experience. On an apprenticeship, you get both.”

Most Read

A typical day on farm for Jess starts at 7.30am, when she has to muck out and feed the pigs. “It’s exciting, interesting and there’s something new every day,” she said.

“The great thing about working here is that I get to see the whole food chain process, from the pigs being born and growing, to the butchery and farm shop. There aren’t many jobs where you get to be involved in something from start to finish like that.”

From this month, Jess will attend study days at Easton and Otley College to complete the classroom based training which is required for her apprenticeship. She hopes to complete the apprenticeship in about 18 months, after which she plans to continue working in farming.

Fergus Howie, a partner in Wicks Manor Farm, said: “We were looking to take on a new stockperson – something which is very difficult to find – when Jess came along. The EDGE Apprenticeship scheme allows us to take on a motivated young person and train them to the level we need within our own enterprise.

“Any business is only as good as its staff, so by taking on an apprentice and training them, it can help to bolster the whole business from head to toe and it has also helped motivate our existing members of staff.”

He said that there are many opportunities for young people who want to work in food and farming.

“We are encouraging Jess to take on as much responsibility here as possible, I’ve no doubt that she could become an under manager and continue to progress from there. I think an apprenticeship makes her extremely employable and opens the door to a whole range of fantastic opportunities.”

Easton and Otley College spokesman John Nice said: “Jess is a superb example of someone who has never had any real experience of farming being attracted to the industry. While we are delighted to talk to a host of different people – including those who have been involved in farming - as a college, one of our aims is to promote farming to a new generation of young people and Jess is a superb example of someone like this.”

EDGE Apprenticeships is a collaborative venture between agricultural purchasing groups Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram Group, in conjunction with Easton and Otley College, New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council and Suffolk County Council.

EDGE Apprenticeships in Food and Farming will offer training across a wide range of careers, both on-farm and in associated agri-science and agri-business roles.

Classroom-based training for apprentices will be provided by Easton and Otley College and other appropriate training bodies.

Employers who are able to offer placements and apprentices keen to take the first step in a career in food and farming can contact the EDGE team on 01603 881966 or email