“The Trust has long enjoyed support from high-profile landowners”
After a dire winter for winter wheat and a pandemic forcing milk to be dumped and impeding the fruit harvest, it’s been a bleak time for farming. Yet alongside these problems is an ongoing challenge that land managers everywhere cannot overlook: teaching Britain’s children about the land. Educational charity The Country Trust has done this for more than 40 years, with around 20,000 children a year — primarily from disadvantaged schools — now joining its free visits to farms and estates through its farm, food and countryside discovery programmes. “It’s desperately astonishing how little they know about anything we’re talking about,” says Lord Somerleyton of the children he and his wife have hosted for the Trust for five years in Suffolk. “I’m near Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, both quite deprived now there’s no fishing,” he elaborates. “They’re also very urban, though close to the countryside.”
At Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, Trust visitors typically start off with some foraging then learn “a bit about nutrition, farm structure and the commercial end of arable farming,” continues Lord Somerleyton. “Of course, they love a ride on a tractor — it’s so huge and other-worldly — and they’ll come to the kitchen garden at the Hall where we grow quite a lot for our pubs.” A specialist dairy farming tenant has a docile herd the children can then meet up close. For Somerleyton, the biggest frustration is trying to cram everything into one short visit, which he likens to “having just one maths lesson a year. If only they could come once a month to see the seasonal shifts, and how the grass doesn’t grown until it’s at least six degrees and so on.” With this in mind, the Somerleyton’s have joined with a neighbouring estate to cosponsor a school in Great Yarmouth through the Trust’s fuller, year-long food discovery programme, in which children combine farm visits with growing, harvesting and cooking food of their own. Schools report that this can often lead pupils involved to be more confident, experimental and healthy in their diet. “Parents may not have the budget to experiment with foods their children don’t like but we can promote fresh fruit knee deep in £50 notes, so the Earl usually has to explain that “you still have to earn a living day to day, and that things still have to be stitched and repaired”. But though he hopes his visitors will take away positive ideas about food, farming, horticulture and the countryside, he also takes great pleasure in seeing them just “charging around the lawns”.
Lord Somerleyton probably summarises best of all how most hosts feel about the Country Trust’s work: “If even one child each time can take something away from it that helps them build a better future — that’s worthwhile.”
To read the full article (July Edition page 80) visit: www.thefield.co.uk