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Having a field day

Julie Oxley believes it’s important for all children to understand where their food comes from and how to make healthy, nutritious food for themselves. 

Real Bread from a field, not a factory. Copyright: Julie Oxley

Real Bread from a field, not a factory. Copyright: Julie Oxley

The Country Trust is the UK’s leading national educational charity connecting children from areas of high social and economic disadvantage with the land that sustains us all. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to discover first-hand the connections between the food they eat, their health and the health of the planet. Through food, farming and countryside experiences we aim to empower children to be confident, curious and create change in their lives so that they and society can thrive.  

A day on the farm

We took children from Stradbroke Primary School in Sheffield to Helen and David Rhodes’ New Hall Farm in Ardsley to learn about food production by exploring the farm-to-fork journey of Real Bread. The full-day visit allowed the children to see different aspects of farming, learning how all the parts support each other, which in turn leads to vigorous crops growing in the fields. 

The children started the day by examining fields in which arable crops, including wheat, barley and beans, are grown. They explored the wildflower margins to find pollinators and develop an understanding of how crucial biodiversity and conservation is on the farm and overall production of healthy, nutrient-dense crops. They tasted honey from the beehives, which most children scored ten-out-of-ten and declared delicious.

Digging for clues

The children then literally got stuck into the soil, digging to see what they could discover around the field and who could find Superworm! They quickly found many different mini beasts, which they learned indicates a healthy soil. They also discovered that worms are not always in the places that the farmer needs them to be – they found more around the edges of the field than in the middle, where the crops were.

Next, the children examined the wheat crop, making the connection that worms help the farmer take organic matter between different levels of the soil. They measured a square metre of the wheat field, discussing the quantity of seed planted in it and how much grain it would yield. They then were guided to think about their school grounds and estimate how many loaves of bread they could grow in the area it covers.

Grain and grist

As the day progressed, the children grew in confidence as they learned more about food production. They visited the grain store to look at the scale of the wheat produced on the farm, which some children described as looking “like a sand mountain.” They were in awe of how much was harvested compared to the amount of seed that had been planted.

At lunchtime everyone sat outside the restored barn to eat together. It was the first time that many of the children had enjoyed a picnic and it was great to hear their excited chatter and see their happy faces. As the children ate, they were visited by cinnabar moths and other insects - learning never stops on the farm, even for lunch!

Next the children milled some wheat and sieved it to see the different stages flour goes through (in traditional stone-milling, at least) before it reaches the shops. After sieving they asked questions about what happens to the outer husk from the wheat. We discussed different types of flour, from wholemeal to multigrain and white. Of the children who had baked before, most had only used white flour.

From crop to crust

To end our journey, the children tried some Real Bread made by Julie. They enthused that the bread smelt wonderful and declared it was the best they had ever eaten. The children examined a wrapper from a supermarket loaf and discussed the long list of ingredients and additives, some of which even the adults present could not pronounce. When the children learned that the artisan loaf was made using the sponge and dough process from just flour, water, yeast and salt, they asked why all bread is not made that way. 

The discussions could have gone on all day, but sadly it was time for the children to leave the farm and head home. Helen Rhodes said: “Many of the children who visit us with the Country Trust have never left their local neighbourhood, let alone stood in the middle of a field. To be able to stand in a crop of wheat, to then shed wheat seed from the ear and mill that wheat into flour brings the whole sequence to life. Broadening the story to include activities that illustrate the importance of both wildlife and soil health on the farm and incorporating a sit on a tractor means there is something for everyone. One day in a child’s life to gain an insight into where their food comes from.”

The teachers were keen for the children to continue their learning and stepped up to the challenge of giving the children an opportunity to learn how to make Real Bread themselves. They were given an overnight dough recipe using Yorkshire flour and, looking at their pictures, they made some impressive loaves.


Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 58, April 2024.

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Published Wednesday 10 April 2024

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