Using farm visits to give pupils essential life skills

Resource: Case study Age: Primary
Using farm visits to give pupils essential life skills

Atwood Primary School, a Silver Award school in Croydon, believes food education is integral to the school curriculum, and its links with Commonwork at Bore Place farm help to bring all of the strands together, from growing to cooking and food sourcing. Pupils are given “real life learning opportunities” and the skills to make informed food choices in the future.

Commonwork is a group of organisations based at Bore Place Farm, an organic dairy farm and Soil Association demonstration site 17 miles away from the school. The group has an excellent education programme and provide a variety of curriculum linked school visits throughout the year. Visits were initially funded by the Food for Life Partnership but now the school funds the visits itself.

What they have achieved

Atwood decided to send the pupils from their School Nutrition Action Group to Bore Place to learn more about farming and in particular milk production. The school has visited the farm several times over the last year to see how the farm changes, and has used the visits to reinforce many areas of the curriculum. Some examples of the activities the pupils did on the farm are detailed below:

Dairy unit tour – On their first visit it was important for pupils to see the site and become familiar with it. Pupils were able to see where dairy cows live and better understand how milk is produced. Pupils were asked to write a report back in school about what they had learnt on their visit, which is great for literacy skills. Pupils also fed back to the rest of the school about their visits by creating display boards in school, which is great for art and design.

Artificial insemination demonstration – This demonstration introduces life cycles to the pupils, the life cycle of a dairy cow, in particular.

Newborn calves visit – Pupils were very lucky to be able to see a calf the day after it was born. This was on their second visit and this really helped reinforce what they had learnt on their first visit about life cycles. It also introduced the topics of animal welfare, which is a great science and citizenship topic.

Milking viewing – Pupils were able to stay on the farm to watch the afternoon milking session, helping to reinforce the idea of food production. This is a great maths topic because pupils can see how many cows there are, how much milk is produce and also how much feed ration the cows get. 

Slurry pool viewing – Nutrient recycling is an interesting topic for pupils to think about – being able to see how the waste from the farm is collected and reused is a great practical example.

Development of new cow sheds – Pupils were able to view the construction of the new buildings, which is a brilliant design and technology topic. Puils are able to think about materials and their properties and how they can come together to form a building. This is also a good activity for discussing animal welfare because pupils are able to think about what cows' specific requirements are in terms of housing.

Farm manager interview – Pupils were able to ask the farm manager some questions and get a better understanding of how a farm is organised and run as a business.

Bread making – Pupils learnt all about the cereal crops that make flour and were able to grind their own flour in order to make a bread roll each. This is an excellent exercise for food technology and science – it introduces changing state and forces.

Waste audit activity – Every time the pupils visited the farm they separated their lunch waste into recyclable, compostable waste, etc. to see what waste they had produced, reinforcing the messages of recycling.

Food miles activity – Considering where different food items have come from enables pupils to think about the impact of the food we eat everyday and consider what choices and alternatives they have as food consumers.

Vegetable plot tour – This was a great way for pupils to see what can be produced in the garden and relate it back to the plants they are growing in their garden at school. A great activity to discuss germination, plant life cycles, seed dispersal and the principles of organic production.

Battery hens talk – Animal welfare is an important and emotive topic, and seeing how battery hens can be rescued and made healthy again helps pupils to understand and again consider food choices.

Hedgerow survey – The farm was happy to have the pupils help survey what was living in the hedgerows as part of their 10 yearly survey. This activity is a good way to talk about the benefits of organic farming for biodiversity and introduce topics such as natural pest control, food chains and habitats.

What they say

Rob Veale, deputy head teacher at Atwood Primary School, says: "We feel the teaching of ‘food’ is extremely important in developing a pupil’s education as a whole. It has an impact not only on their immediate lives but also their future lives. Pupils have the opportunity to cook a range of recipes, grow a variety of crops each year and care for chickens. Produce from the gardens and chickens are used in the cooking club, by the school canteen or sold in order to develop some project sustainability. Regular visits to the farm are made throughout the year so pupils can relate to the processes of producing food. These are real-life learning opportunities. Skills gained from these experiences are used for the rest of a pupil’s life. Pupils will be able to make informed food choices and evaluate the impact these choices have on the environment."

Julia Bracewell, education coordinator at Commonwork at Bore Place Farm, says: "The aims of these visits to Bore Place are to help young people and adults to make connections: with the natural environment, with their food at the start of the production process, with each other on a local and global scale, recognising that actions that individuals take in one part of the world can have an impact on others in other countries, and vice versa. And ultimately, through these experiences, we feel it is important that people can make connections with themselves and to recognise and understand their own feelings about issues, as well as their own values and thus to be able to make decisions from an informed basis.

But for all this to happen, we feel strongly that the experiences have to be positive and enjoyable, and so we try to ensure that visits are good days out where learning and experiencing happens through fun and enjoyment… despite the often very strong smells on the farm."

The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising school meals, reconnecting children and young people with where their food comes from, and inspiring families to grow and cook food.

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