Essex Schools Food and Farming Day, now in its twelfth year, is an event organised by the Essex Agricultural Society in partnership with Writtle University College and Essex County Council. This year it saw some 3000 primary school children from all over Essex gathered in the showground at Writtle, where they were exposed to a variety of stands and displays that told them about all aspects of food and farming. The idea is to show them that cornflakes are made from maize, which has to be grown in a field, and that milk comes from cows before it gets into a bottle or, more likely, a plastic carton.
In this it works magnificently, and the children, aged 8 to 11, were clearly enjoying a grand day out. Displays of raw cereals proved surprisingly popular. People dressed as tomatoes and cucumbers were mobbed. And Tim and Harry, the well-groomed Golden Guernsey goats, patiently received a lot of attention, but such handsome creatures are no doubt used to it.
What was noticeable was that the farm machinery, once so popular with small boys (and of course girls), failed to grab their attention. They were much more interested in making pyjamas from bananas, and other eco-friendly ways of turning what would otherwise be plant waste into something useful, or saving water. They seemed less than impressed by a big piece of kit that was used to spray the fields with chemicals, essential though they are if a growing population is to be fed with the food that it needs and especially the meat which the majority crave.
The children may not have been avoiding from the stalls offering samples of venison burgers and pork products – on the contrary – but there is no doubt that as a generation they are more conscious of the environment than the majority of their elders.
That same evening, as the sunshine was turning to light rain, we drove down to Hawkwell to meet the 4th Rochford Scouts, for a litter-pick that had been organised by Rochford District Councillor Julie Gooding. Our hunting ground was a large playing field behind Clements Hall Leisure Centre, and at first sight it wasn’t very promising, as there wasn’t much sign of litter; but the long grass and scrub round the edge yielded rich pickings, much of it recyclable. It was fun, and there was some friendly competition, but the scouts were fully aware of the environmental value of what they were doing, and of the long-term damage that discarded plastic is doing as well as the immediate damage caused by broken glass. I wasn’t surprised to learn that one of the young leaders, currently doing her GCSEs, wants to be a marine biologist.
I hope it’s not too grasping to mention at this stage that I’m raising money for the High Sheriffs’ Fund by taking part in litter picks across the county during my year in office. But I need to take every opportunity, because I fear that my efforts are likely to be eclipsed by 7-year-old Daniel Walker, who has so far raised £2800 for Farleigh Hospice by litter-picking in Great Notley. This week he walked away with the ‘Inspirational Role Model’ award (young person winner) at the Braintree District Volunteer Awards, well-deserved recognition of his efforts.
Dorothy Lodge, with whom (as it happens) I used to sit as a magistrate, was the adult winner, and overall Volunteer of the Year; but, particularly when it comes to the environment, the Daniel Walkers of this world can provide as much inspiration as the David Attenboroughs.