RHS and FJA Educating Schoolchildren with the value of food

The sun shone and over the four days from 21st to 24th June a crowd of nearly 200,000 visitors went through the turnstiles at The Royal Highland Show (RHS) in Edinburgh. The organisers bill it as “The Greatest Show on Earth” and 2018 proved no exception. There really was something for everyone to see and maybe it was my imagination, but this time around there seemed to be more schools than ever taking youngsters for a day out.

Of course it’s a great opportunity to teach children about where their food comes from and how the whole farming system works. However, while the youngsters see it as a day away from the classroom, they probably don’t realise the amount of information they are taking in and some of the images they see will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

I can clearly remember some of my early show-going experiences and how they shaped my future in agriculture. More importantly I learned that farming didn’t just stop at the farmgate and the milk and cheese which my father produced was consumed by thousands of other people in our towns and cities.

Over the years the RHS showground at Ingliston has changed way beyond a show of livestock and the latest in shiny new machines.

The past few years have seen more and more emphasis on the final product of the farmer’s work with a huge permanent food hall in place and now the supermarket stands line the main walkways. Just about every main supermarket is represented and they know how important it is that the public understands the connection between the field and fork. Of course there were massive queues of schoolchildren outside the more forward thinking supermarkets who were offering free samples of everything from burgers to cheese and crisps. Obviously there is no better way of making the field to fork connection than meeting the actual farmers and tasting their produce and I still love watching the realisation moment when youngsters discover that crisps come from potatoes and cheese comes from milk – from a cow!

All of this is something that my team at Farmer Jones Academy (FJA) have been keen to bring to life as part of a school curriculum. We wanted to see youngsters not only grow their own produce, but also learn how to market and ultimately make a business out of it. We had a vision of creating a new generation of mini-farming entrepreneurs … and now I’m pleased to announce that the vision is becoming a reality.

We are delighted to be working with Nairn Academy who have come right on board with our plans and from August we will be working with several groups of pupils who will not only learn about the field to fork story … they will actually do it with their own hands! The polytunnel is due for installation this month, the raised beds will be built before term starts and we will be growing the fruit and vegetables as the year goes on. Head teacher Julie MacDonald and her team have seen the benefits the scheme will bring to Nairn Academy by integrating FJA into their curriculum and with some careful planning have also linked our work into their new café area.

Hopefully bringing the field to fork story into the school will create not only a new generation of budding food entrepreneurs, but will also bring with it a host of transferable business skills which youngsters can use in whatever career path they may choose. We shall be working with the school on business studies and with IT on an innovative new e-commerce platform.

However, even more exciting – the latest part of the story is that we now have a second school in Inverness who want to take part in The Farmer Jones Academy programme … so watch this space for more news on that!

As I have said before now in this column … Education is the vital key to understanding the value of food.

There has never been a moment in our history when that has been more important than right now.

@farmerjonesy