SOWING THE SEEDS
Dorset Magazine|November 2020
The average age of a British farmer is 60, which is why the Melplash Agricultural Society is investing in the next generation of Dorset farmers
Kathy Dare

Agriculture depends on the next generation seeing farming as an attractive career option. But how can you enthuse youngsters in the 21st century, as well as convince their parents and teachers that this is a viable career option? The answer is to explain what farmers do in this modern age of agriculture – including working with the latest technology – and the crucial role they play in looking after the rural environment and countryside.

The Melplash Agricultural Society’s annual Melplash Show showcases many different careers in this sector, educating the public about food, farming, and the countryside. But this is just one day in the year, so as well as the Show – and perhaps less well-known – is Discover Farming, the society’s dedicated education programme. It aims to inspire future generations to consider careers in farming and agriculture, as well as offering financial support along the way.

Marcus Beresford, chairman of the Discover Farming programme, says: “When I was president of the society in 2010, I was impressed by the bursary scheme that had been started in 2006 to help local students pursue careers in agriculture and allied subjects. It was a small scheme with limited funding of just £3,000 per annum, but I felt we could build on it.”

Marcus did some research on the farming industry and West Dorset and was dismayed to find more under 24-year-olds were leaving Dorset than were coming to work there. “Having spent my career in the international engineering industry arena, I knew we needed to establish a steady supply of talented young people to enter the farming industry each year. And so, the society’s board agreed that we should develop our sponsorship programme to increase funding for the bursary scheme: this year we gave bursaries totalling £30,000 to 20 students!”

What also became clear was that more needed to be done at the grassroots level to excite and inspire local children to consider careers in agriculture.

“We launched Discover Farming at the Melplash Show in 2014,” says Marcus. “The demand from youngsters of all ages for the hands-on activities and the thirst for knowledge was tremendous. We already had Vicky and Simon Holland running school visits to their farm at Washingpool, just outside Bridport, so by partnering with them we could offer subsidised visits to the farm for all local primary schools. Since then the programme has gone from strength to strength. We now offer career advice to secondary schools too. The combination of all these activities make a “joined up” programme which will not only give our local youngsters a better knowledge of food, farming and the environment, but also the opportunity to join the workforce that our farming and agriculture businesses require.

Located at Washingpool Farm, the onsite classroom connects children with farming, food and the countryside and is available all year round for schools, local clubs, and youth organisations to visit. Katie Vining, the Discover Farming education co-ordinator, took over the running of the Discover Farming Classroom in June 2017.

“My aim is to deliver a stimulating environment for learning with plenty of hands-on interactive experiences that give children the opportunity to find out where their food comes from, how it grows, as well as gain an understanding of how farmers look after their animals and the environment. Since working on this project I’ve discovered that there is a real mix of knowledge amongst adults as well as children about what farming really is.

“We have a beef herd, sheep, pigs and chickens right next to the classroom, as well as fishing lakes where we explore different wildlife habitats. Linking closely to the science aspects of the National Curriculum, we cover the basics of life cycles and reproduction. We also answer questions such as: Why has the sheep got a blue bottom? Do cows have to have had a calf to produce milk? Where does mince come from?

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