By Ian Collison
Based in West Norfolk, I am a managing partner on a family farm. We have a small arable unit but the vast majority of our business is comprised of our cut flower operation. We are one of the UK’s leading seasonal cut flower producers, supplying around 32 million stems per year. As major supermarket suppliers we are rigorously monitored and complete many annual crop assurance audits.
LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Marque certification has been a part of this for several years now. It is about practical steps we can take to enhance the local environment and support the flora and fauna that we share our farm with. Another part of the LEAF ethos is actively presenting a positive image of farming by engaging with the public, through many activities such as Farmer Time.
Farmer Time is an ongoing connection, where the farmer and their class link up for fortnightly video calls looking at what is happening on the farm and how it relates to the school curriculum.
I chose to sign up as a way of getting the message out about the great work we do here on the farm to improve the natural environment. It’s all too common to see farmers on social media bemoaning the lack of understanding of the industry and the negative press which is so frustrating for us all. What better way to counter this than to take a class of schoolchildren who may never get the opportunity to set foot on a working farm along with you on your working day. Whether that be in the tractor cab, the calving shed or the packhouse – it is a safe way for children to see and experience things that they would otherwise never be able to.
The children love the calls which support their learning and provide a fantastic break from ‘normal’ lessons. Even in our rural communities many people now have no link to farming as they would have in previous generations. This is only more pronounced in urban areas so, all the more reason to reach out and shout about what we do, using modern technology to bridge the gap. What could be more memorable for the children than being there virtually when we plant our new hedgerows or harvest the crops that they will see on the retail shelf.
Fifteen minutes out of my day once a fortnight is a small thing for me but it’s a very enjoyable experience and means an awful lot to the children. They really look forward to the calls and feel part of what is happening here. They also love catching up with the latest antics of Marbles the spaniel!
UK horticulture and agriculture have some fantastic stories to tell and Farmer Time gets you in to the classroom to help educate and inspire the consumers and employees of tomorrow and make them understand what goes in to producing the fantastic, healthy and sustainable produce which emerges from UK farms day in day out.
Why wouldn’t you want to get involved? Visit www.farmertime.org, where you will find schools waiting to be paired with farmers right now.