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The story behind schools launching their own farms

PUBLISHED: 17:24 29 April 2014

Cranleigh School

Cranleigh School

Archant

Taking pride in provenance isn’t a new thing for schools, but some have taken it a step further by launching their own farms. While several produce food for their own pupils, a few even supply their local community, as Matthew Williams discovers...

From the Spring 2014 edition of A+ education magazine

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Kent College, Canterbury

There has been a young farmers’ club at Kent College since 1953 and such is its continuing popularity that the school now boasts a well-developed working farm extending to over 50 acres of pasture. “We farm a wide range of livestock, including a breeding herd of Sussex cattle, a small flock of Texel sheep and a free-range pig enterprise,” says farm manager Graham Palmer. “The farm is also home to numerous small animals including chickens, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets.” Found at the school campus in Canterbury, the farm site has recently diversified to include a dedicated equine centre, which provides livery and riding facilities for pupils at both the senior and junior schools. This centre is also home to a number of ponies, which are available for riding lessons for all levels as an extra-curricular activity. “We are proud that our current pupils still maintain an active and enthusiastic young farmers’ club today,” says Graham. “The club is open to any member of the school and activities are available to suit all tastes – even ‘fair-weather’ farmers!” The school community uses eggs and meat produced on the farm and their home-reared pigs produce what the college calls “happy sausages”. In addition, Kent College is always represented at the local ploughing match and the annual county show, where their animals often take pride of place and win numerous rosettes. “The local farming community, many of whom are alumni of the school, are keen to see the farming traditions of the school upheld and actively support the farm with advice and machinery,” says Graham. “We are proud that some of our students go on to be farmers of the future.” Thanks to these industry links, Kent College is also able to offer a course in environmental land-based science, making full use of the farm facilities and providing a real hands-on experience for the school’s students.

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Lancing College, West Sussex

Established by biology teacher Jane Swan in 1983, as a modest off-shoot of the science department, Lancing College Farm is now a major operation on the South Downs that is often visited by other schools too.

When the farm first started out, pupils helped to clear scrub from the fields bordering the campus and built the fencing and pens. At that stage, however, the stock was limited to a few sheep, two Saddleback pigs, two suckler cows and some hens scratching around on a plot next to the science labs.

“In the early days, the staff at the college were assisted by local farmers, including Christopher Passmore who farms the land adjoining the college, and Derek and Vicky Crush, who are the organisers of many of the local farmers’ markets,” says farm manager, Jon Hutcheon. “Back then, pupils were involved in all aspects of animal husbandry, including the lambing, although undoubtedly fewer ‘Health and Safety’ boxes needed to be ticked in the same way as they do today!”

During the 80s and 90s, the farm flourished, with the stock rising to over 70 breeding ewes, six breeding sows and three suckler cows. Pupils also became actively involved with the management and decision making for the farm. Today, the farm is a 70-acre enterprise and no longer just an extra-curricular activity.

“Now we have not just a ‘farm project’, as it used to be called, but a fully working farm with a major forestry and woodland enterprise,” says Jon. “I’m keen to diversify and pupils can learn bushcraft and woodland skills, charcoal burning, market gardening and even jam making.”

As well as teaching modern farming methods, he is keen to revive hedge-laying, coppicing and green wood-working. Meanwhile, they produce mainly rare breed pork and a variety of lamb from a flock of over a hundred, which as well as going into the school kitchens is also marketed locally – and the sausages are renowned!

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Cranleigh School, Surrey

Motivated by food shortages during the war and a desire for self-sufficiency, Cranleigh School was an early adopter of the school farm – although today the emphasis is very much on their state-of-the-art equestrian facilities.

“The school pond and, latterly, the school tuck shop are named Gatleys, which stems from the school’s farmlands which were once owned by a Mr Gatley,” says school archivist, Martin Williamson.

“The farmland came up for auction in 1946 and the governors paid £14,000 for the farm, buildings and 81 acres and invested around another £7,000 in livestock. This was entirely financed by loans, as an appeal was out of the question with the on-going war memorial appeal.”

Peas, ryegrass, winter oats and potatoes were planted and a herd of 30 Ayrshire heifers was purchased – pigs followed later. Agriculture was incorporated into the sixth form syllabus and boys helped at the farm. Post-war, however, few farmers were among the parents.

“The farm never made a profit – indeed, losses in some years ran into thousands,” says Martin. “It did supply the school with milk. As late as the early 1970s, large metal milk churns were hauled into the kitchens straight from the farm.”

When Marc van Hasselt took over as head in 1970, he felt the farm was no longer viable and closed it down, and in 1972 it was re-opened as the Sixth Form Centre.

“Although the farm was not a success, it did result in a substantial amount of land being bought and the benefits of this are perhaps the main legacy,” says Martin.

Cranleigh Equestrian Centre has made a home of this land with extensive riding facilities featuring over 60 acres of grazing and riding land, two floodlit all-weather arenas, a cross-country track and accommodation for up to 40 horses.

Riding is hugely popular among pupils, in both lower school and sixth form, and Cranleigh School is currently the NSEA National Schools’ Dressage Champions.

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