Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Life’s not so baaad in the rural education business

Life’s not so baaad in the rural education business

APRIL has been a hugely successful month for a local farm whose newborn lambs have been proving a star attraction.

Over the past year and a half, Oak Farm in Harpsden Bottom has hosted a great many visits for children aged four to 14.

Children from local primary schools and a local pony club have been visiting in order to learn about the role of farmers and farms in producing food and protecting the countryside.

“Farm to fork” has been a major theme, with activities including food chain construction, flour grinding and scarecrow-building proving popular.

The farm’s recent April visits have included lots of hands-on time with the newborn lambs, including a chance to bottle-feed them.

The aim of the visits is to educate all ages on the origins of the food they eat and the type of activities that take place on a farm and in the countryside.

They also support the educational “core subjects” through word and number recognition and various activities.

For each visiting group, the farm team — led by farmer Sam Austin and his wife Louise — work with the teachers in order to come up with a timetable that supports classroom learning.

“We try to be very flexible and encourage teachers to view the farm as an extension of their classroom,” says Sam.

“Once the children have understood the traditional food chain — in our case lamb or pork — we then outline our ‘farmer to customer’ approach.

“We believe that travelling is the most stressful part of life for our animals and therefore have also adopted a ‘direct to customer’ approach for our meat sales, meaning the animals only have one journey, whereas in the traditional way it would be at least two journeys.”

Sam, who lives with his wife and two young daughters, is proud to be the modern-day custodian of one of the oldest mapped farms in the Chiltern Hills. As well as breeding sheep, selling their meat direct to locals and conservation operations including restoration of the farm’s hedgerows and woods from a 1586 AD map, the Austin family have been happily diversifying into rural education — whether this is providing a four-year-old’s first experience of a working farm to training veterinary students in lambing procedures.

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