Today, I am lost for words.
This morning the postie brought a large A4 envelope full of thank you letters from a group of school children from London. In the last week we have hosted several visits of primary schoolchildren, one class at a time, each for a day’s visit. These letters are the first to arrive.
The bus arrives and the children disembark all of a chatter and then mostly queue up to use our one loo [we are a working farm, not a visitor centre], then we all set off on a farm walk to see all sorts of things – above and below ground, living and dead. This takes a good hour and involves a lot of running up and down hills, a wonderful stream of non-stop questions, and quite a lot of screaming. On the way back from visiting the outdoor pigs we stop and feed the 4-year-old pet sheep [who really loves all these extra meals] and then everybody has to wash their hands thoroughly before lunch.
Lunch is inside for the children, while we take a short break too. I try to grab something to eat, and catch up on phone messages. After the children have eaten their lunch there is more play for them, weather permitting, outside on a large patch of clean and cut grass. After playtime and more hand washing, a variety of activities take place including holding pet lambs, feeding rams and cattle, and after further supervised hand washing, the serious art of milling & bread making is demonstrated where everyone gets a chance to first knead, and then shape the dough. Unfortunately we are not yet able to bake their dough pieces to take home but we are working on this as our next capital project.
It is exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. The more visits we do the more refined our programme and delivery becomes and we get more relaxed, until the teacher in charge wants to leave early on account of the potential traffic problems and then we wonder how to fit everything in.
I need eyes in the back of my head and a very large cup of tea afterwards, but I love it. Jethro does too. The farm receives a small payment from Natural England to host one of these visits, and it has to be mentioned that this fee no longer covers the cost of our time and materials. However, the money is not why we do these visits, we passionately believe that everyone should learn about the countryside and how and where their food is produced. These children were both very interesting to be with and very interested in everything on the farm, and although lively were no trouble and perhaps easier to deal with than some schools we’ve had whose children perhaps have had more access to the countryside.
This brings me back to the letters: we understood that the majority of the children who came live in small flats in tall blocks in London and they have written the most entertaining letters mentioning most the animals we saw and fed including a goat, that we do not actually have, which is slightly puzzling [perhaps it was the pet sheep] and as you can imagine the dead rabbit and bones feature quite heavily amongst all the beautifully pencilled prose.
However, several children stated how much they had enjoyed coming to the farm and that it was the very best day of their lives, EVER , and this startling fact leaves us simply stunned. Several actually put into words that they hope that we can get other children to come for this ‘very marvellous day’ and that we will continue to offer these visits.
We are now very determined to try to find additional funding sources to pay for the transport from London so more children can actually come. Based on our fairly limited experience of hosting school groups we believe it is the city children that need these visits most, although in an ideal world all primary school children should be able to visit a working farm.
The collective joy of running [and screaming as loud as you can] down a steep hill together, the finding of ‘booty’ [bones, stones, feathers, wool, straw, and all sorts of other interesting rural items…] to take back to school. The understanding that wheat grown on this farm made some of their lunchtime sandwiches – from various branded loaves of bread found on the supermarket shelf.
We believe this type of experience for many of these children is almost priceless and very important to their personal development and we seriously want to try to find financial help and support to cover the transport costs to get the children here so we are able to do more of this. We now know that once they are here we can give them a really interesting time, hopefully with happy memories that may truly last them all their lives. Honestly, the effect of these farm visits on these children has been a revelation for us all here on the farm and made us all look at what we do everyday with fresh eyes.
All suggestions as to how we may achieve our funding aims are most welcome.