FARMERS AND crofters in Scotland are being urged to share their story with the next generation by signing up for Farmer Time.

The initiative – founded by farmer Tom Martin and co-ordinated by Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) – pairs farmers up with school kids for a series of video calls throughout the year.

It gives pupils a fantastic opportunity to see behind the scenes on the farm and form strong relationships with the industry.

Farmer Time was launched in 2017 and has so far matched over 600 schools, reaching nearly 16,000 children. But there are 200 schools ready and waiting for a farming host.

Director of Education and Public Engagement at LEAF Education, Carl Edwards, commented: “Engaging with schoolchildren has never been more important after this challenging year and we are particularly delighted to have so many schools signed up. We’ve already seen the incredible impact Farmer Time is having on educating, inspiring and engaging children with farming, how their food is grown and where it comes from.”

The annual Farmer Time Impact Report for 2020 revealed that 100% of farmers enjoyed the experience, 96% will be continuing with Farmer Time and 71% spoke to children about careers in farming. The SF caught up with two farmers in Scotland who have fully embraced the initiative.

Dairy farmer Colin Ferguson from Kirkinner, in the South west of Scotland, has been taking part in Farmer Time for almost three years and has loved every minute of the experience.

He described the initial process as a bit like signing up for a dating app and being matched up with a teacher who is looking for similar goals.

For Colin, that teacher is Kate Sutton, who looks after Year Three pupils at Burlington Junior School in East Yorkshire. Every Sunday, Colin explained that she gets in touch for a chat to discuss what subject they are covering that coming week and then Colin will look to explore related content with the pupils and demonstrate how it falls in to place on his farm.

“Farmer Time is a fantastic way to give pupils an insight in to farming and it’s really cheap,” said Colin, “it doesn’t require a school having to find funds to put on a bus and you as a farmer don’t have to worry about health and safety with kids coming on to the farm.

“It has been a really fun venture to be involved in and it is up to you how often you take part. I now just liaise with Kate directly which takes away any added levels of bureaucracy,” he continued.

“The only thing it requires of you is a bit of time and it is worth every minute. You always feel great after speaking to the pupils and hearing their reactions, it leaves you with a smile on your face all day.”

Colin discusses a range of topics with the pupils from soil health to dairy farming and even covered a Brexit class with some of the older pupils at the school.

“We have had some fantastic questions from the kids, such as ‘has a cow ever blown away’ and ‘do I have any flamingos,” he laughed.

As well as running his dairy farm, Colin is also a goat enthusiast and helps his partner Rebecca Dawes look after her herd of pygmy goats. He added that this part of the farm is a firm favourite with the pupils, ending most of his video calls in the goat shed.

Farmer Jock taking his London pupils inside the cattle sheds to learn about calving

Farmer Jock taking his London pupils inside the cattle sheds to learn about calving

Farmer Jock taking his London pupils inside the cattle sheds to learn about calving

From dairy farming in the South of Scotland to beef farming in the North of the country, Farmer Time has recruited an array of enthusiastic farmers.

Farmer and butcher Jock Gibson from Edinvale Farm,Forres, signed up last Autumn and now has a weekly online class with pupils from Southbank International School in London.

“I’m speaking to seven-year-old pupils who come from all over the world, many of whom are far removed from what happens on a farm and are brimming with questions about what we are doing here at Edinvale,” said Farmer Jock – as he is known to the pupils.

He said that during the snowy spell in January he had sent the teacher a video from the farm and for some of the kids they had never seen snow before.

Jock sets aside 20 minutes every week to take pupils virtually around his farm and right now he has been busy with calving which has gone down a treat with his class.

“The pupils have named our first two heifer calves Southbank Snuggles and Southbank Sally,” he laughed, adding that he hopes to send the pupils personalised ear tags with the heifers’ names on them.

A big part of the past six months for Jock and the pupils has been exploring the changing seasons and looking at trees and hedges on the farm.

He also manages their family butchers, Macbeth’s in Forres and during one virtual call was able to give them an insight into the manufacturing room where sausages were being made.

“At a time where there has been so much anti-farming messaging in the media, opportunities like these allow you to showcase to the next generation what we do as an industry. I’m able to bring pupils on to my farm from over 500 miles away and it encourages me to think more about how we present what we do to young people. If we can’t communicate that, then we are up a creek without a paddle.”

Jock strongly advocates for other farmers to join Farmer Time and use the opportunity to speak to young people, adding that the process is extremely simple, and avoids any health and safety flags, all being virtual.

“Sometimes as farmers we are in a bubble and forget just how built-up some areas can be and how little greenspace there is. We forget how little opportunity some young people have to experience food and farming production first-hand. This has been a great way to share our story as farmers and forge links with future generations.”