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Bill Graham, education consultant, writes:
Given a free hand, what kinds of measures would I introduce to promote a greater understanding of food and its production? My focus would be on children and young people, as I believe that they would benefit the most.
The right to enjoy childhood
We have all seen the headlines that there has been a dramatic and long-term decline in children’s relationship with the outdoors. So my first measure would be to give all children the right to enjoy their childhood years. I would start by creating places where they can spend quality play time with parents and grandparents. All schools, parks and allotments would have food growing areas where children would be able to plant seeds and nurture their own vegetables. Children’s kitchens would be set up to introduce children to the joy of turning their own produce into wholesome and tasty dishes to eat.
It’s the journey, not the destination
My second measure would be to give teachers the confidence to occasionally meander during the learning journey. Clearly teachers should set rigorous learning goals, but there are various ways of reaching them. I am a great fan of the slow food movement, which helps reconnect people with where their food comes from and how it is produced so they can understand the implications of the choices they make about the food they put on their plates. I was therefore intrigued to come across an interesting idea from Paula Owens from the Geographical Association who was extolling the virtues of slow learning: “Learning journeys don’t always have to be linear and target driven. They can be playful, explorative and serendipitous”, she says.
Teachers should be encouraged to provide opportunities for children to wonder, enquire, imagine, discuss and develop ideas. In my opinion, these experiences deepen understanding. The curriculum would also include wider life skills and all children would be given the opportunity to grow their own produce and learn how to prepare and cook their own food dishes. Surely these life skills are essential if we are going to address big issues such as obesity, climate change and food security?
Visit the countryside
What does farming mean to children when there is plentiful food in the shops? Why should the rural economy matter when they perceive their future employment to be in the city? Does the countryside offer them anything apart from a large green space for the occasional recreational visit with parents? My third measure addresses these key questions by providing all children and young people with an entitlement to visit the countryside. This would allow them to see for themselves how food is grown and the land is managed. And there is no substitute for first-hand experiences, which have a lasting impact on children and young people in comparison to second-hand experiences from books, television or the internet. There is an enormous amount of goodwill within the agricultural sector to encourage and support educational visits to the countryside. These champions should be recognised for the fantastic contribution they make. There are already 2500 farms, agricultural show societies and estates offering school visits involving 1.2 million pupils each year. There would be a commitment to work with farmers to further increase the number of visits and enhance the quality of the outdoor experiences offered to the children. The biggest barrier to more visits is the cost of hiring coaches, so I would introduce a transport fund to allow pupils in deprived areas equal access to the countryside.
Time to think practically about food
Some students are turned off learning while at school and more of the same offered by the same people in the same way is not going to drastically change the situation. My final measure would be to set up a systematic scheme of countryside vocational learning where young people would learn practical skills. And these practical skills would be assessed in a way that was trusted and valued by employers. If we are going to fill the 60,000 jobs that are required by the agricultural sector in the next ten years, we must be serious about attracting new entrants. Greater support would be given to Bright Crop, the industry initiative to inspire young people to consider careers in the farming and food supply sectors. This includes recruiting countryside ambassadors and promoting the diverse and rewarding range of careers that farming and food supply can offer.
In this blog, I have suggested four measures to increase the children’s understanding of their food and where it comes from. To me, if we can help in this way we will have made not just a valuable but an essential contribution towards improving the lives of future generations. That is why the work of organisations such as Farming and Countryside Education matters.
Job done! I can now move onto a set of measures for adults…
What would your four measures be?