Spring on the Farm
With many children, their interest in nature and the great outdoors starts at an early age, right from the point of jumping in muddy puddles. If your children are anything like mine, playing eye spy, spotting creatures, birds, and animals, and finding little treasures from streams and looking under stones fires their imagination and keeps them entertained for hours. Visiting local farms is a great way to get them outside enjoying nature and gives your child the opportunity to discover where their food comes from.
I visited Jane Richards, one of the co-owners at Riverford Organic Farmers, on Sacrewell Farm, near Peterborough, who is keen to emphasise the importance of children knowing how their food is grown, and the choice of fruit and vegetables that is available to them.
“Getting kids to eat all kinds of vegetables can sometimes be difficult. Cauliflower and brussels sprouts are often among some of the ‘most hated’ vegetables out there. Our chef recently showed some visiting pupils from a local school how to prepare vegetables in a more inventive way. She made a fresh salad using brussels sprouts and they loved it.”
Jane continued “We hold farm walks for families from May to September and invite our customers along. They are popular, and the kids love it, especially if it’s wet and muddy! In addition, they get to see and taste vegetables they’ve never come across before.”
In Spring, Riverford grow numerous vegetables on their 500 acres of land, including leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and savoy cabbages. From June onwards, you can expect to see kohl rabi, broad beans, beetroot, lettuce and fennel growing. “Walking through a field of fennel on a warm summer evening looks and smells amazing,” Jane says.
Organic veg, fresh from the field (and usually muddy) is not always uniform in shape, like those you see in the supermarket. Recognising that vegetables come in all shapes and sizes must be a good thing. Experts also highlight the fact that organic crops (cereals, fruit, and vegetables) contain 60% more antioxidants and simply switching to organic could give you the same benefits of adding one or two portions of the recommended ‘5’ a day.
The taste-test challenge
It’s great to take your child on walks around working farms, to see the vegetables growing, and, in the case of livestock, to experience the animals. To help children understand the undeniably better taste of organic fruit and veg, why not engage them in a taste test challenge? You can do this by cutting up organic carrots, tomatoes, or fresh salad alongside those purchased from a supermarket and see if they can smell and taste the difference.
Grow your own
Kids love nothing more than experimenting with a plot of land of their own (it doesn’t have to be huge), where they can dig over the earth and watch plants grow. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, with little space required, and a crop of strawberries is usually enough to encourage most children to top up on their five a day.
Farms nearby to visit:
Sacrewell Farm and Riverford Organic - Sacrewell is great to experience animals and see the working watermill. And if you are a customer, look out for the farm walks at Riverford Organic Farm.
Harvest Barn -Visit Muddy Boot’s Farmyard & Animal Paddocks for kids. This 250-acre farm grows cereals, vegetables and fruit crops and has 4500 apple trees as part of the UK’s largest Agroforestry system - growing trees & crops in the same fields.
West Lodge Farm Park -West Lodge is a great way to experience different animals, try the petting sessions and watch the fun piggy racing, and in Spring, feeding of the lambs.
Oakham Farm Park - Rutland Farm Park is a small 18-acre working farm on the edge of Oakham.
Ferneley’s Farm - Owned by a family that has been farming for 80 years and with their Dairy Barn cafe, kids can try out the famous ice cream made with milk straight from their cows.