Academics, schools and farmers recently gathered for the annual School Farms Conference, organised by the School Farms Network and supported by UK-wide charity Social Farms & Gardens and the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.
At this year’s conference, experts gathered to speak about the very latest innovations and case studies for school farming. Topics included school farming in the Far East; how to feed a growing world population; using school farming to transform vulnerable children’s lives and expert advice on how to set up a school farm.
The conference showcased how all schools, regardless of size, location or status, can benefit hugely from using the natural world as a school resource. School farming approaches, such as learning outdoors or caring for animals, show significant improvements in exam results, self-esteem and overall wellbeing and happiness, while equipping younger people for many of the environmental challenges that lie ahead. Keynote speaker Helen Ward (Head of Strategic Engagement, Defra) delivered a talk about the Defra 25-year Environment Plan and the Year of Green Action (YoGA) showing how we can all take positive action to improve our environment. Her talk reinforced the feeling that demand and interest is growing, influenced by government policy and worldwide events such as the climate-change school protests where children themselves are demanding a greener future. Talks from farmers and teachers provided fascinating insights into the benefits of school farming, especially for disadvantaged pupils and those with sensory impairments and autism, leaving little doubt about the importance of school farming.
Schools from across the country also attended to pick up awards for their great work through school farming.
Donna Ashlee, Chair of the School Farms Network said:
‘The SFN Conference was an excellent opportunity for like-minded people to get together and share good practice, it was brilliant to see everyone networking at the event and continuing the conversations over social media in the weeks since’.‘The Gala dinner and awards were a particular highlight with fantastic case studies being shared throughout the evening that were really inspiring and moving. It was lovely to be able to celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams that make such a difference to the communities they work with’.