With more and more people interested in food production and farming’s impact on provenance, environment and rewards it offers from careers to the countryside, engaging with the public has never been more important. Caroline Stocks looks at training initiatives open to farmers.
From food shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic to growing concerns about the links between meat production and climate change, British agriculture has been put firmly under the spotlight over the past two years.
The public’s interest in food and agriculture is greater than it has been for decades, however, the industry faces a new challenge of finding ways to maintain their interest and, more importantly, ensure they hear the facts about how their food is produced.
There are few people who understand food production better than farmers, but if you have never engaged with the public, spoken to a group of people or welcomed visitors on your farm before, it may well seem a daunting prospect.
Thankfully, there are training courses available to give farmers the right skills to communicate with schools, teachers, consumers and the media, as well as advice on how to host farm visits and other activities. Here, we list some of the ones on offer.
Visit my farm
If you are a farmer or farm educator and you want to start running educational visits, Linking Environment and Farming Education has a variety of educational courses and resources on offer.
Developed in collaboration with educational partners, Visit My Farm has a host of online resources and advice for farmers, including self-directed training materials, how-to guides and videos.
- More information: visitmyfarm.org
Leaf Education seminars
Linking Environment and Farming Education runs regular seminars and workshops on a variety of topics, ranging from maths on the farm to outdoor learning in secondary schools.
The workshops offer a chance to learn more about farm visits, as well as network with other farmers and farm educators. Sign up to find out about seminars in your area.
- More information: leaf.eco/education/for-farmers/training, or call 02476 413 911.
Leaf Open Farm Sunday
Since the first Open Farm Sunday event was first held in 2006, more than 2.7 million people have visited more than 1,600 farms across the country.
The event is held each year on a Sunday in June and offers people of all ages the opportunity to visit a farm and learn more about producers’ roles in producing food, enhancing the countryside and conserving the environment.
Anyone can sign up to host an event and, once you have registered, you will be sent a handbook containing all the information you need to organise your day — whether that is hosting a farm walk or a more elaborate event. It also has a template risk assessment and tips on ensuring your event is safe.
- More information: openfarmsunday.org/open-my-farm
Almost 2,500 farmers and educators have undergone training through The Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme (CEVAS), an accredited training programme designed especially for people who want to offer education or care farming experiences on a farm or countryside location.
Each year, CEVAS-educated farmers welcome 500,000 school children on-farm. CEVAS involves two days of on-site learning with a tutor, where you learn about the practicalities involved in hosting visits, how food and farming can be incorporated into the curriculum and how to communicate effectively with teachers and pupils.
- More information: visitmyfarm.org/cevas-booking/courses
If you took the CEVAS qualification some time ago and want to update or refresh your skills, CEVAS Plus could be the course for you. Designed for anyone who received the initial training more than five years ago, it offers advice on new ways to engage with schools, as well as training on how to raise the standard of curriculum-linked farm visits, ways to fine-tune your health and safety practices and the opportunity to share best practice and new resources with other farm educators.
- More information: visitmyfarm.org/cevas-booking/courses
If you want to learn how to connect to the public using the media, journalist and farmers’ daughter Anna Jones’ workshops on communication, storytelling and interview techniques could be for you. She runs full day courses for businesses, as well as farmer-specific courses through her Just Farmers initiative, which aims to help build farmer confidence in speaking and being interviewed by the media.
- More information: justfarmers.org
Social Farms and Gardens
Social Farms and Gardens is a UK-wide charity which works to connect communities with farms through nature-based activities.
As an accredited training provider, the organisation offers a variety of workshops and training events covering subjects ranging from how to set up a care farm to how to meet the needs of specific groups, such as people living with mental ill health or learning disabilities.
As well as face-to-face training, Social Farms and Gardens has a regular series of webinars discussing subjects like how to grow connections with schools and how to talk about food to children of all ages.
- More information: farmgarden.org.uk, or call 01179 231 800.
The Royal Highland Educational Trust
The Royal Highland Educational Trust (RHET) was established to teach young people in Scotland about food, farming and the countryside.
Farmers and land managers can volunteer to become classroom speakers or host classes on-farm, with RHET offering training in what information to share, how to tailor it to specific audiences, as well as giving ideas on curriculum-based games and activities to offer.
RHET also puts prospective hosts in touch with other farmers to hear how they connect with children and offers help with required health and safety paperwork.
- More information: www.rhet.org.uk, or call 01313 356 227.
Linking Environment and Farming-backed initiative Farmer Time offers farmers the chance to speak virtually to schoolchildren and answer their questions through free fortnightly calls on FaceTime and Skype.
Calls between farmers and their paired classes last anything between 10 and 20 minutes and ideally take place throughout an entire academic year.
There are more than 300 schools signed up to the scheme and volunteer farmers can access online resources, as well as help from their paired teacher, to come up with ideas for conversations and find tips for answering the toughest of children’s questions.
- More information: leaf.eco/farmertime/home
NFU Speakers for Schools
The NFU’s Speakers for Schools programme sees NFU members and industry experts partner with local secondary schools to deliver sessions encouraging pupils to see the connection between farming and food.
As speaking to a room of teenagers can be daunting at the best of times, volunteers are offered training on how to tell your story, how to keep audiences engaged and tips on how to hone your presentation style.
- Find out more about the NFU’s education work by visiting education.nfuonline.com