THE transformational impact of the work of the Farms for City Children charity has been set out in a detailed new report produced by a Harper Adams postgraduate researcher.
The charity brings children from all areas of England and Wales to farms in Devon, Gloucestershire and Pembrokeshire, for an immersive residential farm stay that aims to boost each child’s confidence and self-worth during the visit.
To have this work evaluated, its Chief Executive Officer, Donna Marie Edmonds, sought support from the Worshipful Company of Butchers to set up an MRes research studentship at Harper Adams University. The post examined the work that Farms for City Children delivers with school pupils who had taken part in a residential stay at Wick Court, the charity’s Gloucestershire farm.
Researcher Liz Tree, originally from Croydon, worked with 43 children from four London primary schools and their teachers to assess their views of their visit – with the children’s thoughts captured through a ‘rich picture’ design process.
For this, children were given a question and then asked to draw their responses. Sat in small focus groups, each child was asked to draw individually – with their artwork stimulating creative conversation among the children, without pressurising or leading them.
Alongside this, the pupils’ teachers were also interviewed – with their responses providing context and detail to the children’s comments.
Liz Tree said, “I rather unexpectedly loved working with children – I had never worked with children before, and was a little apprehensive as I didn’t know what to expect, but I found it so entertaining, and at some times, quite moving.
“They spoke with so much enthusiasm, love, and happiness for the experience that they’d had at Wick Court.”
As discussions developed, a series of key themes began to develop. Among positives, the children and teachers talked about personal growth and character development – for instance, talking about how they and their friends developed teamwork skills through having to work together to weigh pigs.
Pupils also discussed a wider knowledge of the environment and nature, as well as a stronger understanding of food and agricultural systems and appreciation of where their food comes from.
Among the terms children came up with was “pigonomics” – their way of describing the intricacies of the percentages behind meat production and their understanding of how pigs become sausages and bacon. This work also fed back to lessons the children had had at school – meaning their time in Gloucestershire kept informing their learning when back in London.
Liz added, “One of the standouts would be how much the children enjoyed talking about how things they learned in school could be applicable to real life – ‘pigonomics’ is the perfect example of that, having children keen to work out percentages and weights because they could see a reason for it.”
Though children said that, at first, they had worried being away from home and outdoors, once they had made their visit, most spoke warmly of their time at the farm – with two thirds of all children saying it made them happy.
Teachers, meanwhile, spoke of tangible learning experiences for their pupils, shifts in their perception – and of how the experience helped the children who took part become more accepting of one another.
Liz’s report – which was compiled with Harper Adams Visiting Scholar Claire Toogood – was presented to the charity earlier this month – the full report can be read here.
It draws upon the comments of both pupils and teachers to make recommendations to Farms for City Children about ways in which their programmes could be enhanced, policy recommendations for the National Curriculum, and a range of suggestions for further research.
She said, “So many positive comments and anecdotes were shared, and I feel this is a real credit to the job that the farm team does. There are such a wide range of benefits shown from this research, including wellbeing, understanding of agriculture, and the journey of food production.”
Farms for City Children Chief Executive Officer, Donna Marie Edmonds, said, “Liz’s research has been gratefully received by Farms for City Children.
“It asserts that a week of muck and magic on one of our heritage farms is highly impactful on children, young people and on their teachers. It increases learning and engagement; it improves connections and wellbeing, and it enhances a child’s sense of environmental citizenship.
“It is transformational, and the effect of the residential continues to impact upon the character and behaviour of the child long after they return to school.
“We are so thankful to Liz for the expert manner in which she conducted the research, for the support of Harper Adams University and for the generous funding of the Worshipful Company of Butchers who made this happen.”
Chris Wood, Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, added, “We are very supportive of the work of Farms for City Children because of the insight that the charity gives to inner city children to life on a real farm situation.
“We were not only delighted to support the research project at Harper Adams University but are also providing financial support to Farms for City Children as one of our nominated charities. As a livery we want to be at the heart of the meat industry and ensure meat has a place at the table as part of a balanced diet for children and adults alike.”
Liz concluded, “The benefits of visiting farms – and specifically a visit to Farms for City Children – are so far reaching. It gives the children a chance to explore a world they might otherwise never get the chance to see, alongside all kinds of personal development such as teamwork and resilience.
“I firmly believe all children should have the chance to understand not only where their food comes from but to spend time in the natural world. Ensuring all children have opportunities to interact with the natural world and farm life is so important.”