Education is key to British agriculture

The Newbury & District Agricultural Society run a strong education programme, offering free of charge activities and demonstrations to all schools in Berkshire. Jan Murray, our Education Officer heads up the programme and takes us through a typical week for her.

As the schools have now closed for the summer, I am taking a moment to reflect on how varied my days have been so far this year.

Myself and Pam Hillier-Brook, a member of the Education Committee, ran a sausage workshop at Kennel Lane, a Special School in Bracknell for the first day of their Forest Schools themed week. Pam and I are both certified in sausage making, (not everyone can claim that status!), and Pam usually takes on board the linking of the sausages once they have come through the machine. Having done this for many school visits now she is quite the expert and the sausages look more professional than my efforts. It doesn’t matter how complex the learning needs of the pupils are, when the meat starts coming through the machine, the children are completely mesmerised. We left the school with three plates of fat sausages, which they planned to barbeque and share around the following day.

Pam and I then attended the final of the Farming, Environment and Sustainability Challenge held at the Arlington Arts Centre, thanks to the generosity of Mary Hare School. Two teams made it to the final; Kennet School and The Downs School, and it was a battle of the preserves! Kennet School worked with The English Provender Company on designing new flavours of chutneys, whilst The Downs School spoke passionately about preserving our hedgerows through the making of homemade jams. I think the judges had a great job this year as there were tastings to be had from both teams and I had to remind them not to indulge too enthusiastically as we also enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch, although the students were all too nervous to eat much and some took “doggie bags” away to enjoy after the event. Much deliberation took place before Kennet were announced as the winners. I am so relieved I did not have to get involved in separating these equally excellent challenges.

The middle of the week involved a trip to Sheepdrove with Park House School. Having worked with them over the year running practical sessions using fresh produce from the walled garden, this was an opportunity for the students to visit and see for themselves where everything is grown. My first really wet visit there, the wind was howling and the rain did not let up all day. Nevertheless, we ploughed on and the youngsters stood in the dreadful weather sampling broad beans and strawberries before learning about the magical transformation that takes place in compost bins! We did manage to escape the weather for a while when we visited the polytunnels and got to stroke a bull.

I then visited Fielders Farm Shop with Addington Special School. Another of my Cookery Schools, this was a completely different experience. For one thing the sun was shining and Matt, the very enthusiastic manager, took the students round the premises, explaining where everything is sourced from locally. The students then purchased pasta and vegetables, which they were going to cook for their lunch on returning to school. I love these visits but they are tinged with a little sadness as it is the last time I will work with these young people.

My last day of the week I spent with Yattendon Primary School. With just 74 pupils in total, I worked with all of them at different times, accompanied by Buttercup the cow, Clover the goat and Rasher the pig, all wooden replicas I may add. We did sausage making, goat’s cheese tasting and the pupils were able to milk Buttercup and Clover.



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