Farm moving full circle with school visits filling calendar
WHEN pupils from a Nottingham primary school ventured into the sticks to visit a unique farm education project, horse meat was not on the agenda.
Cereals were. "Where does our wheat go?" asked the teacher, holding up a handful of grain.
"Weetabix!" replied one youngster.
"Feeding the birds!" said another.
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Slightly taken aback, the teacher re-took the initiative: "What kind of birds?
After a moment's thought came the uncertain reply: "Crows."
The youngsters of Henry Whipple School in Bestwood have much to learn about modern farming but they are in good hands.
At the Ecocentre that is part of Home Farm, Screveton, they are the guests of farmer David Rose – a man with a passion for ethical farming, honest produce and involving the public.
Like many farmers, he has had to think of new ways to dodge the unending financial pitfalls facing his profession, like cheap competition from abroad; climate change, quagmires and the rising price of hay; tight buyers from penny-pinching supermarkets.
The purpose-built new Ecocentre, with its heat-absorbent walls and sedum roof, welcomes school parties and community groups.
It's an ongoing process for the Henry Whipple pupils, some of whom are strangers to open countryside.
"We came in October and planted wheat and beans and had a look at pigs and turkeys," said teaching assistant Lorna Weightman.
"The pupils are getting so much out of it and there has been more interest in my garden club. What we grow there we either use in school for cooking or sell to parents."
Pupils separated seeds from husks and learned how to the grain is milled. They got their hands sticky in the lecture kitchen as they mixed flour, water and yeast for bread making.
Their classmates fed the chickens, supervised by Julia Wilson from the farm's partner organisation Quercus Communities, which teaches outsiders, including disabled people, about agriculture and the land.
"The feedback has been brilliant," says Julia. "The children didn't want to leave and they want to come back.
"They are learning things and putting them into practice on their school plot. They are also acting as ambassadors, explaining things to other children."
David is the third generation of his family at Home Farm. When his grandfather moved from Hoveringham and took over in 1933, the holding was just 90 acres. It has since grown to 650 acres.
"As we grew to 650 acres I found it was difficult to make viable on my own," he says. "We merged with three other farms to establish the Farmeco co-operative: 2,500 of our own acres and another 1,000 on which we farmed for other people."
The Ecocentre is the latest step into the future and relies on community support. Aside from school visits – 52 last year, more this – you can expect to find the centre hosting anything from make-your-own-sausage events to yoga classes for the over-80s.
Services include the Eco Exchange composting partnership, in which local householders take compostable waste to the farm for maturing, and the Pig Club – domestic fruit and vegetable waste is converted into feed for the farm's free-range pigs. Donors can feed the pigs and get a discount on the farm's pork products.
The latter include the Nottinghamshire Sausage – pork, apple and venison. Other products include lamb and pork packs.
Although this will be the future at Home Farm, it could also be the past. "Gran sold blackberries and apples in the local market and dad did a milk round, says David. "People came here to buy their eggs and meat, so it's come full circle."
More details: www.eco-centre.org.uk