“I’m so glad I’m at Farm Kids” said a young farmer chirpily to me one morning, “because now I know I definitely don’t want to be a farmer.”
Where did we go wrong?
We spoke about it and I thought about it a lot more and then I realised why it was actually a brilliant and insightful thing for that child to say. Being a farmer is really, really hard work. They get up early. Every. Day. They work their bodies to the limit, walking, lifting, kneeling, pulling, pushing. A lot of their work is monotonous, doing the same tasks or variations of the same thing over and over again. They are at the mercy of rain, cold, drought and plenty of mud. Animals escape and get ill. A sow births eight piglets, only to crush three when she rolls over. They are confronted by life and death in all forms. Crops fail, badgers take a chunk out of each and every squash as they crash through the vegetable beds like a marauding horde. Yet every day the farmers get up and carry on. Sowing new seeds, replacing fencing, building new systems so hopefully no piglets are lost next time. And all this for little financial gain. So the only way it works to be a good farmer on an organic or biodynamic farm like Tablehurst is to have a whole lot of passion and a strong belief that growing and rearing our food is one of the most important jobs in the world.
So is that passion and belief what we are trying to achieve by bringing children onto the farm? Yes, but it’s not the only thing.
In these times of screens, robots and online living we believe that it is absolutely vital to get children outside and stuck into life. Our young farmers are out working and playing whatever the weather. They arrive with their waterproofs, boots and rucksacks and spend the day pulling weeds, spreading hay, collecting apples or pumpkins and feeding them to the pigs, stacking wood, mucking out animal pens, harvesting potatoes, scraping oak bark for preparations and a whole lot of other tasks that are integral to farm life. They get muddy and tired and sometimes they even get bored. It’s hard to stick at a task and see it through to the end, but with some encouragement and a lot of playfulness they manage it.
One time the team were cleaning out all three pens in the farrowing house (where the sows give birth). It’s a huge task and it’s really smelly. Every child had a pitch fork, a shovel or a wheelbarrow and they turned it into a wonderful game where they were mining for gold. I don’t think they found any but they worked together, all fourteen of them, taking it in turns when their noses needed a break, and pushing each other up a ramp to empty the wheelbarrows into the big trailer. It was an epic task and they had found a way of making it fun. We see it again and again with our young farmers, that if you give children the space and opportunity they are capable of work and play in such a creative way. They develop an understanding of and respect for the natural world and find their places in it. When they have a task to complete it defines their role even further and builds their relationship to the land and the other beings we share it with.
Another thing we try to instil in the children that come to us is that their bodies are their greatest tools. They learn how to use their hands to create a bed for a seedling and to measure distances between plants with their strides. They define the size of a seating area they are building by creating a big circle, holding hands, and they use their feet to spread woodchip as a soft, insulated floor beneath the seats. The children develop a confidence in their bodies and get to know their limits, what feels good or manageable and when they should stop. They also begin to realise that sometimes things are easier as part of a team. They start to ask of each other and then rely on the others in the group. The teenagers recently did a fundraising car wash and bake sale. They organised themselves into washers and bakers and both teams pulled their weight and put some proper effort in because without everyone being on board they wouldn’t earn money to invest into their project. The washers honed their techniques and tried different combinations of working together until they had two efficient and amicable teams. The bakers made the most inventive and blood-curdling cakes (it was Halloween) I’ve ever seen and sold out. They raised an impressive amount of money which they will invest in their business idea, which is to develop a barefoot walk and herb garden for the farm, and learnt the importance of working with others along the way.
So, are we trying to grow little farmers? Well it would be excellent if we could inspire and nurture an interest and love for growing vegetables and a respect for rearing animals. As you have probably heard, we have a desperate need for young farmers in the UK, as the farmer population is aging and there is a serious decline in people from the younger generations getting trained and involved with agriculture. I guess the child I spoke with has a different calling but even if we reach one or two in the group and they carry that interest through teenagerhood to agricultural college or apprenticeship, then that can only be a good thing.
Tablehurst Young Farmers currently runs three groups a week. We have the Tablehurst Farm Kids for home educated children between 7 and 12 years old who meet every Thursday for a day of work, play and crafts on the farm. The children are enthusiastic, creative and inspiringly self-led. We have the occasional trip out to Tablehurst’s sister farm, Plaw Hatch , where the children can experience a different site and benefit from seeing a mainly female farm team at work. Once the Farm Kids have ‘graduated’ they can move up to the teenage project ‘Tablehurst: Let’s Grow’. This is an innovative group, in which the 12 to 16 year olds have been given a plot of land on Tablehurst Farm and have a year to create a viable business on it. We have a business mentor from eequ who introduces the children to simple business concepts. The young people work closely with the farmers and farm management throughout the creation of their start-up initiative. Our newest group is Tablehurst Seedlings for children aged 0 to 6 years old and their parents or carers. We meet every Tuesday afternoon to play, visit and feed the animals and work on developing a child-friendly area on the farm.
Would you like to join us? Whether you are a parent or carer, a budding young farmer or a child who is keen to spend more time outdoors we’d love to show you what we do and hopefully inspire you to get stuck into the Tablehurst mud. Please contact us via our contact page.