On a wet day last month I travelled up to La Cornetterie in St. Martin, home of the Farm School Initiative, to meet its founder Grace Davies.
Meeting an enthusiastic individual is always a delight, meeting one that’s carved her own career to play to her strengths, whilst providing an educational and exciting outlet for island children is especially so. Some may think that Grace Davies is lucky to be outside all day, others may think she’s mad, I for one think she’s inspirational. After completing her degree in 2012 she wanted to be a teacher but upon further investigation realised that a classroom setting wasn’t for her. At the same time the family farm began moving in a different direction, they wanted not only to farm organically, but to change the way children value the food they eat and so the Farm School Initiative and Sprouts Farm club was born.
Grace and her father Bill Davies set up the project with the hope to inspire children to learn, play and to grow. Just from my short visit to the farm I could see how children will be able to do just this. By being outside and getting their hands dirty they’ll be able to more easily learn about their environment and understand how and where their food comes from. “As children we were always allowed to muck in on the farm if we wanted. Try peas and chillies straight from the field, try and help sort potatoes or at least dig spuds for tea. My memories of my childhood are coloured with days learning outside and watching my dad ploughing the fields. Mum and Dad were so patient with us and would take us through every step of the process – from planting through to harvesting. We would see the plants grow and the time it took before we could eat it. It’s this experience I want to pass on to the children that come up to the school now.”
Grace’s father Bill Davies, well known for his fantastic stall Just William in the central market is always looking for new crops to grow and was one of the first in Jersey to export tenderstem broccoli and purple-sprouting to the UK. Alongside this he grew Jersey Royals, tomatoes, runner beans, chillies, salads, fennel, garden peas, coriander and more! If it intrigued him, Bill would grow it and make it sell. I’d say it’s safe to say that his hard work and passion for farming has definitely rubbed off on Grace.
La Cornetterie Farm in St. Martin has been owned by the Davies family since 1985 and is the perfect environment for students to embark on their own farming projects. Each student that participates in the Farm School Initiative or Sprouts Club has their own plot which they are responsible for and they can happily take home anything that they are able to grow! They cater for both primary and secondary Schools, children of all abilities. “Growing is great fun and there is something to be learnt at every age. As farmers, we are still learning! We hope to give children the opportunity to learn to grow and know what it’s like to be part of the farming process.”
They also house a small amount of livestock too, the farm has a number of pigs, ducks and chickens which the children are able to help feed and clean. The pigs are reared for their meat under the watchful tutorship of Jon Hackett. He’s helping Grace learn about rearing the animals and she’s helping him to grow his stock as his current farm doesn’t have the space to grow. This of course leads to further conversations with the children as there is no hiding the reality of where the pigs are heading. But as Grace explains “we often ask the children would they rather their meat come from animals that have lived happy lives, they agree they would. Of course it has resulted in some of them making decisions to eat less meat, choose local or high welfare meat or not to eat meat at all, but we think this is also an important part of the process of understanding where their food comes from too.”
There isn’t a better time to inspire and inform the younger generation about where our food comes from and the careful and lengthy process required to get it to our tables. “It’s time to go outside and play, get dirty and grow! When I think back to my childhood these are the things I remember.” As do I, which is why I think this whole initiative excites me, it reminded me of amazing times spent outdoors with friends growing up and also of the home grown vegetables we helped to grow. If I could sign up to become a member of Sprouts I would, but instead I shall just have to settle on waiting until my niece is six and can join herself and spread the word to anyone who’ll listen until then.
PHOTO CREDIT: Hamish Crake