Case Studies

Chapmans Hill School Farm Case Study

You can listen to an audio podcast of a school visit to the Chapmans Hill School Farm which gives an insight into what is involved in running a successful school visit to a farm.

Click here to visit our podcast page.

Chapmans Hill Case Study 1    Chapmans Hill Case Study 2

Hall Farm Case Study

This case study takes the form of a question and answer session with Mrs Julia Hawley of Hall Farm, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire (www.brentingbymeadows.co.uk)

Hall Farm Case Study 1

Hall Farm comprises 121ha (300 acres) of mixed farmland supporting dairy, beef, sheep, arable and conservation interests.

Why did you choose to do this?
I don't come from a farming family, but have lived in rural areas and worked in the industry all of my life, even before marrying a farmer. I love farming and have always enjoyed working with animals and know what pleasure they can give people. I wanted to be able to share the joys of the countryside, to reconnect people with their food and local landscape.

At a business level, these are our consumers and it's important for our future markets that they understand the practicalities of farming and feel some connection to us. If they can picture a farmer they met on an enjoyable farm visit rather than developing misconceptions about farmers shouting 'get off my land' and doing nasty things to the environment and animals, that has to be to our good. Hopefully, we may also kindle some interest in youngsters in rural careers - where are the farm vets and animal nutritionists of the future coming from if they've never been near a cow?

When and how did you get started?
We were accepted into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in 2000 and selected the Educational Access option amongst others - we receive a payment for hosting groups, with the visits free to the group. At first I focused mainly on adult groups (e.g. WI) to see what the reaction was like and then started hosting occasional primary school visits in conjunction with a local environmental centre.

Hall Farm Case Study 2

How long did it take to set up?
It takes a lot of work at first - you really have to 'market' your farm and there is a bit of a 'why would we want to visit a farm' attitude from both adult and school groups. I had between six and 15 visits a year (adult and school) for about the first five years. The schools' interest was developing more as time went on.

Two years ago I went on the CEVAS course (Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme) - a sort of 'farm assurance' for school visits, firstly to accredit me as a host and we then passed our premises assessment. This was a really useful course - it's great to meet other farmers hosting school visits and share experiences. Most importantly, the training gave me a lot more confidence in dealing with schools, from developing curricular links to knowing what the respective health and safety responsibilities are. This has really enabled me to expand and we are now hosting more visits, especially from schools and youth organisations. I also go into schools so I'm now doing 25-30 events a year, mainly with children.

Were there any costs involved?
It tends to be investment in time rather than money. If you are going to host an occasional visit you may not have to spend anything and only need some simple guidance notes to give the teacher but if you want to do more then a good Teacher's Information Pack is vital. I did ours myself - there are good guidelines available on what to include - but others may prefer to pay someone to prepare it. We obviously have public liability insurance and our insurer knows we host school visits. As regards facilities, for the first few years, we used the farmhouse loo if necessary and washed hands indoors, which was fine. As we started to do more school visits, to speed things up, we bought a portaloo and a camping loo and some mobile wash basins - some of our visits are up the other end of the farm over a mile from the buildings. We have a very basic 'schoolroom' just a cleaned out farm building with straw bales to sit on and a few posters on the wall - really just used for changing into boots and having lunch if it's wet.

Is there funding available?
We are fortunate that through CSS we were able to get funding for the facilities mentioned above and we are now also paid per visit. The equivalent in England now is Higher Level Stewardship. Apart from the agri-environment schemes there may be some local funding in some areas of the country.

How often do you have visits?Hall Farm Case Study 3
Most of our visits are between April and October, when the weather tends to be kinder. We only ever have one group at a time, as we're a working farm, not an 'Open Farm' so I am with them the whole length of their stay. We may have multiple visits on the same day (morning and afternoon for different classes from the same school) or two or three visits in a week.

There is obviously less activity from schools over the summer holiday so the summer term is busy. We do have a few winter visits - especially shorter ones, but we don't want the children to remember their visit purely because they were miserable and wet.

Many children even from rural areas don't have proper wet weather clothing or wellies and we have to bear that in mind. I also go into schools and can do that in the winter months.

What's the most satisfying element of having visits?
Without doubt the excitement and joy of discovery that the visitors show - and that includes the grown ups who often know as little as the children.

What's the most frustrating element of having visits?
There's nothing I can think of that's frustrating about actually having the visits. What is frustrating is sometimes what hard work it is to attract them. There are so many ways that children can benefit from a farm visit but a lot of perceived barriers can be put in the way. One is 'we're not doing farming.' They don't need to be doing farming - they can be doing maths, science, citizenship or anything else! It is also much too difficult to get secondary school pupils to visit. Luckily the attitude to risk is becoming a lot more realistic and the Outdoor Classroom Manifesto can only help attract more schools to farms.

What do the children get out of it?
Hopefully a lasting memory, a better understanding of where their food comes from, what the countryside is used for and most importantly, some FUN. A great comment I had from an 8-year old was 'this doesn't feel like a lesson, this is fun.' Sometimes you can see they are trying really hard to work something out - like whether milk is warm or cold when it comes out of a cow. It's not only about farming, but the whole experience of being in a different environment. Some children have never really listened to birds singing or run through a field of warm grass on a summer's day...and if a cow has a wee.... Well, they think that's great!

What do you get out of the visits?
Great satisfaction and enjoyment, especially when we have some positive feedback. There is a definite feel-good factor in knowing that you may have given a child a life-changing experience. We make a special effort to accommodate children with disabilities, although we have no special 'facilities' - we have had children in wheelchairs dangling their toes in the river and stroking calves and autistic children holding lambs.

What is the age range of the children?
The youngest we have had was a pre-school group aged about 1 year upwards. At the other end of the scale we have had 17 year olds studying A level geography. Most are between 6 and 11.

Are you asked to link the visit to the curriculum?

Sometimes we are asked to link to a particular curricular topic, which is where the CEVAS training is so useful. It can be on almost anything - we have covered history, geography, maths, art, literacy and science. Some teachers have a clear idea of what they want from the visit, others are open to suggestions. On other visits the teacher may say 'no curricular links, just help them to learn about what you produce and how, and the life of a farmer.' This is the sort of thing we discuss on the pre-visit, when the visit leader comes to look around, we walk the route together and plan what activities we can cover and we can prepare risk assessments. No children's group ever visits without the leader coming on a pre-visit first.

Hall Farm Case Study 4

As I have gained in experience, and through learning a lot from Farming And Countryside Education (FACE) who have some brilliant and inspirational staff and a great website, I have made my visits much more 'activity' focused. This means the children do the work and often learn without realizing it, rather than me just talking to them or asking questions and showing them things.

What resources do you have to hand out and where do you get the resources from?
I have a mixture of our own and generic ones obtained from other sources. As we have a mixed farm we can cover many topics.

Resources specific to our farm include a detailed teacher's pack and tailored notes on health and safety and supervision. I have lots of 'props' some of which the teacher can borrow - laminated photos taken of different farming operations, wildlife etc and also historic information such as old maps, photos of Shire horses at the farm and old census data. I use dried stems of wheat, samples of straw, hay, silage, food packaging. We are on heavy clay loam soil and I obtained some coarse sand from a split sandbag and some silt from a family member who's over in Lincolnshire - so we have contrasting soils for texturing and investigating with a simple key. Children love that - they're often quite scared at first of getting 'dirty' but soon get stuck in.

Generic information is obtained from lots of places, including educational packs from the levy bodies (many can be downloaded from the Internet), posters, information from FACE website.

Would you be happy to receive enquiries from other farmers interested in setting up visits on farm?
I'm always willing to support other farmers hosting visits - I know how daunting it may seem to start with, and that it can be quite hard to get started, but it's well worth it if you persevere.

Do you get letters of thanks from the schools with regard the visits?
We get some wonderful thank you letters and pictures from the children following the visits. They often say what they enjoyed most and it can be the things that we as farmers take for granted - a wren flying over the river, a cow licking her nose with her tongue. The children are very observant too - I've noticed fantastic detail in some of the pictures, like the digital display on the bulk milk tank showing the milk is being kept cold, cows with freezebrands and numbered eartags or the writing on the parlour blackboard.