“Before the farm was built, I didn’t really like coming to school because there was nothing I enjoyed but now school is like a big adventure! Working on the farm has helped me to understand that school isn’t all about lessons and doing work, it is about taking responsibility and trying new things. During the week I have to get to school early because I help to feed the animals and this means I have to stay after school as well to them out.
We have lots of animals on our farm, including two types of pig and goat, sheep, chickens, ducks and quail as well as the wild birds that come and steal the animal’s food! I don’t have a favourite animal because they are all interesting, but the sheep can sometimes be a challenge. I am very lucky because I get to give tours to primary students that come to visit our farm and I teach them about the animals.”
Peter Fearon, Land-based Sciences Coordinator, Bebington High Sports College, Wirral.
Picture the scene. Sixteen Year 11’s, only one having set foot on a farm before this date, dressed in overalls and wellies wandering down to the bottom of the school field to meet the animals that they will work with for the next twelve months.
“Is that woolly thing a goat?”
“No, that’s a sheep!”
“Is that one over there a baby sheep?”
“No, that’s a pygmy goat.” In the background, the rest of the class watch a sheep defecate for the first time in their lives – “Eeeeew, it’s like Malteasers”…laughter ensues.
Rewind two years and a conversation between the Headteacher, Brian Jordan, and myself planted the metaphorical seed that eventually grew into the 100th School Farm in the UK. ‘Start small’ was the advice, but that advice was long since tossed on the compost heap (again, the metaphorical one of course!). And so the research and funding applications began, whilst at the same time taking courses of an evening to brush up my horticultural and animal husbandry skills.
Some of the staff thought I was a bit crazy, most of the students already knew I was more than a bit crazy but this was not new territory for me, I had the full support of the Head and we moved things forward.
Fast-forward to March 2013. The enclosures are fenced, animals are now in place, the polytunnel is up, and the students are already working on the farm daily. We’ve got the BBC, ex-Corrie-now-Cheese-Guru Martin Platt, the Mayor, a letter from HRH Prince of Wales and a host of other media in school for what was one of the most hectic days of the term. The School Farm is officially opened as the 100th School Farm in the School Farms Network.
Now the real work begins…
The school farm is now active across the curriculum with regular use in Art, Maths, Science, Food Technology and Additional Needs, an area that our school supplies an extensive provision. The scope for the inclusion of the farm is always expanding and in the next few weeks, our Enterprise group will be working hard to sell our first batch of rare breed pork from our four Large Black pigs that were recently slaughtered. Of sixteen students that studied Horticulture last year, three have gone on to employment, apprenticeships or further study. We now have cohorts studying in Animal Care and Horticulture with the former responsible for our breeding programs whilst the School Farmers run the farm on a day-to-day basis.
In the coming months, we’ll be breeding our Guernsey goats and receiving our three Zwartble ewes back from their ‘holiday’ with the tup which means that the spring will bring our first school-born animals. We’re also branching out to our primary partners and launching our first ‘satellite farm’ at a local school with our own farm-reared stock. For our students, there will be new challenges, further adventures and lots of muddy boots but I never fail to be inspired by their stories, their journeys…they even know the difference between a sheep and a goat now so I must be doing something right!
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