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Country Trust Farm Discovery: Reception children from an east London school immerse themselves in nature at a rural Essex farm offering an escape to the country





In a rural corner of Essex near Stansted Airport, a school bus arrives at a farm for a visit that, for many of the children on board, will be their first experience of the countryside.

The feel of the grass underneath their feet, the smells of the farmyard and the wide open spaces are a far cry from urban city life for this group of four and five-year-olds, but thanks to a charity that aims to connect children from socially and economically deprived areas with the land and farming, they are being given an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in nature.

The Country Trust, which has branches nationwide, works with local farmers to teach children about the connection between farming and the food they eat with the aim of promoting healthier lifestyles and sustainable living with its Farm Discovery visits.

L to R: Country Trust fundraising co-ordinator Victoria Cable, farmer Olivia Smith, Country Trust educational lead Vicki Leng, volunteer Amanda Malins and Country Trust farm visit co-ordinator Keiran Olivier.
L to R: Country Trust fundraising co-ordinator Victoria Cable, farmer Olivia Smith, Country Trust educational lead Vicki Leng, volunteer Amanda Malins and Country Trust farm visit co-ordinator Keiran Olivier.

The mutually beneficial partnership means that farmers can help educate the next generation while the children can discover firsthand the route from field to fork.

Farmers Olivia and Joe Smith, who run Broxted Hill Farm, are new to the project – the group from William Davies Primary School in Bethnal Green, east London, were only their second school visitors.

But with support from the Country Trust, who include farm visit co-ordinator Keiran Olivier, the founder of Stansted’s Human Roots community gardening organisation, and the trust’s fundraising co-ordinator Victoria Cable, it’s a team effort to introduce the animals and take a tour of the farm, its fields and tractors!

The farm’s pigs wait for the children to throw over fruit and veg leftover from the market for a tasty lunchtime snack
The farm’s pigs wait for the children to throw over fruit and veg leftover from the market for a tasty lunchtime snack

“The Country Trust targets primary schools with an above average percentage of children claiming free school meals, which combined with a cost of living crisis, means that the likelihood of their school being able to take children out is low,” said Victoria.

“The purpose is to introduce children that would not have the opportunity to experience the countryside so they can learn where their food comes from.

“If schools are the only gateway of opportunity the fact that they cannot afford access to transport means that children who would benefit from connecting with the land that sustains everybody are now better able to access it.

“We have done an enormous amount of research about how to connect children after covid with the countryside and it is incredibly good for their mental health, to decompress, and for their physical outcomes.

Pupils use a magnifying glass to peer at the bugs they have discovered
Pupils use a magnifying glass to peer at the bugs they have discovered

“Keiran and I have been with the trust for six months now, there wasn’t a huge presence in Essex before, but we now have about 10 farms involved.”

Country Trust educational lead Vicki Leng explained how each visit was tailormade to the school with the organisation also supporting farmers with risk assessments and health and safety checks ahead of any school’s arrival.

Its members can step forward to lead tours if the farmers prefer to stay in the background. Alternatively, those happy to be front of house can explain everything to their young visitors themselves, as farmer Olivia did for the William Davies reception pupils.

Children enjoy bug hunting by looking under logs and in the grass for any creepy crawlies lurking beneath.
Children enjoy bug hunting by looking under logs and in the grass for any creepy crawlies lurking beneath.

“When children are on a farm day visit they face micro-challenges that might push them out of their comfort zone, things like jumping in a puddle, coming face-to-face with live, large animals, walking in squelchy muddy surfaces – they are going into a very, very different environment,” said Victoria.

“These are all things we would take for granted, but for a lot of children the smallest things can pose a challenge, but each time they meet these challenges they become empowered by their own capabilities. We often get reports that they go back into class with a new sense of confidence.

The group listens as Olivia explains about the crops
The group listens as Olivia explains about the crops

“It is about agriculture, food and farming and it’s about in the gentlest way, introducing the idea of regenerative farming and sustainability.

“Farmers do not get the recognition or support they need and so many people feel that basic food and farming should be reintroduced into the national curriculum and the Country Trust campaigns for that.

“And we are able to bring together children who would never meet a farmer and create space for those two sections of society to come together and learn about each other.”

The Country Trust describes itself as the UK’s leading national educational charity connecting children from areas of high social and economic disadvantage with the land that sustains us all.

“We believe every child should discover first-hand the connections between the food they eat, their own health and the health of the planet. Through food, farming, and countryside experiences we aim to empower children to be confident, curious and create change in their lives so that they and society can thrive.”

Of the Farm Discovery visits it said: “The Country Trust helps children understand our current food system by opening doorways to experiences that would otherwise be closed.

“Our experienced network of coordinators work with teachers and leaders to tailor Farm Discovery visits to the needs of the children, developing activities that link in with the curriculum or current classroom topic, as well as supporting emotional and social needs.

“Every visit is tailored to the needs of the children, the specific farm and the season. We work with volunteer farmers and visit real working farms.”

It also works with Nurture Groups, Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), Young Carers, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) schools or other groups supporting disadvantaged children and is keen to encourage more from the East Herts area to get involved.

The children from William Davies Primary, accompanied by their parents and teaching staff, were greeted by Olivia, who got them laughing as she knelt down among her small herd of goats and a kid (baby goat) jumped on her back!

She then led the group on a short walk to view their vast expanse of crop fields, explaining how this was where their cereal came from, letting them touch and smell and absorb everything around them, from dodging the stinging nettles to just the feel of a long piece of grass or a butterfly dancing past.

One of the most joyous sights was when they were given the freedom to run in a beautiful grass meadow. It couldn’t have been a more idyllic scene with squeals of laughter and their interest piqued by what could be lurking in the long grass – “Are there snakes?” asked one.

Bug hunting followed in the woods and then a chance to feed the pigs using boxes of leftover fruit and vegetables from Thaxted market.

And saving the best till last, meeting day-old lambs who gently bleated and felt so soft to the touch. The youngsters – and parents – were fully engaged and loving it.

Nursery Nurse Syeeda Khanom said: “They have super enjoyed it. It’s not every day they get to visit this kind of place and it’s so beneficial for them – and the parents are equally as excited!

“They will find this a really good experience as they do not really get out of their community so it makes a nice change of scene, even for myself.

“We try to incorporate a lot of our learning in an outdoor environment as many of them spend a lot of time in the home, so we incorporate the outside and have made a garden area at school for them.”

To find out more about the Country Trust visit www.countrytrust.org.uk

Olivia introduces the newest member of the farm to the pupils from William Davies Primary School in north London.
Olivia introduces the newest member of the farm to the pupils from William Davies Primary School in north London.
Country Trust fundraising co-ordinator Victoria Cable holds a one-day-old lamb for the children to stroke.
Country Trust fundraising co-ordinator Victoria Cable holds a one-day-old lamb for the children to stroke.
Farmer Olivia Smith delights the watching schoolchildren with a display of goat gymnastics!
Farmer Olivia Smith delights the watching schoolchildren with a display of goat gymnastics!
Let loose: the eager schoolchildren race through a spring meadow at Broxted Hill Farm
Let loose: the eager schoolchildren race through a spring meadow at Broxted Hill Farm


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