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Farm favourites

Joël Lacey visits Gore Farm, an educational centre that shows off the best of the land, education, farming, the Trent estate and the support of neighbours

‘Do you know where your meat comes from?’ This is a question Tessa Casely often asks children visiting Gore Farm. They often in turn want to know if the beef calves they are stroking will be killed and turned into meat. ‘Yes’, replies Tessa, and on seeing them looking pensive, she asks if they eat spaghetti bolognese (to which they often reply that it is their favourite). She then explains that bolognese contains beef from an animal like this one.

Tenant farmers Stuart and Tessa Casely with goats on Gore Farm on the Ernest Cook's Trent Estate

Tenant farmers Stuart and Tessa Casely with goats on Gore Farm on the Ernest Cook's Trent Estate

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. It could be said that in Trent, near Sherborne, it takes a village to teach children about food, farming and the environment. Gore Farm on the Trent Estate is home to Stuart and Tessa Casely, who switched from being dairy farmers to running a mixed farm and educational centre in 2006. The year before, they ran a single visit for the local school to see how it would work. Last academic year, Gore Farm hosted 76 school visits of in the region of 2500 children. ‘We cater for classes from reception to sixth form, Stuart explains, ‘taking in Key Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4. We even do adult visits now, too.’

They’ve achieved the transformation with the unstinting support of the estate owners, the Ernest Cook Trust (ECT), their Trent neighbours and local business. Stuart is third generation in the village and second generation as tenants (since 1959) at Gore Farm. ‘We stopped milking the cows in 2006. Before we did that, though, we had to work out what we were going to do for years to come. It was a question of all the arrows starting to point in the same direction. Our kids were growing up and Tessa had more time, we had the right kind of land to do mixed farming (arable and beef), which is less time-consuming than dairy, and we wanted to make the most of the buildings we had on the farm. So we asked the Estate if they were interested in us becoming an educational farm.’

The answer was a positive one, and with some initial funding, he set about organising the farm to become an education centre that worked alongside a working farm. Stuart is captain of the Trent shoot, which won £2200 in the 2005 Purdey Awards for Conservation. This, together with a matching donation from the ECT (which gives £1.25 million in education grants per year), allowed Stuart to help commission a specially designed farm trailer to transport the visitors around the farm. Standing in front of the ‘Purdey’ trailer (which can be weatherproofed for winter visits), Stuart rapidly runs his hands all over the trailer to show how injury-proof it is: ‘I told the trailer-maker I didn’t want a single sharp edge in here, and he achieved it.’

School children observing calf feeding at Gore Farm, one of many elements of the life of a farm that visitors can choose to see

School children observing calf feeding at Gore Farm, one of many elements of the life of a farm that visitors can choose to see

Health and safety is not only a massive priority (this is a working farm, and the welfare of the animals is as important as the safety of the visitors) but also presents an opportunity. Before any group comes, a representative comes for a risk assessment, and it is also at this stage where the visitor chooses from the various options available and effectively design their visit, deciding on the activities they want the children to do on their free visit.

Although Stuart and Tess put a lot of planning into their visits (mixing up explaining machinery, stockmanship, habitat, feed, silage, incubation, rearing and so on) they are always ready to improvise or add in new things. ‘I’ll ask neighbouring farms what they’ve got going on the next few days and if it’s something that will fit into the visit, I’ll ask if we can come along and watch. The village has been incredibly supportive of the farm.’ There are spring, summer and winter crops in troughs (potatoes behind a coverable Perspex sheet so children can see them growing underground, and examples and explanations about the crops themselves; chips and oilseed rape, cricket and linseed. ‘If you can show them something that the crops are used for, it’s much more real to them; for example snapping a piece of wood that hasn’t be treated in linseed and then being unable to do it to one that has.

‘Team-building is a big part of what we do. We’ll separate the kids into four groups and just say: “Right, all of you choose North, South, East or West – now! And they run off and that’s the groups sorted, rather than letting them decide for themselves who should be in which group. The teachers often say: “Oh this isn’t going to work, they don’t get on…” but in fact they sort themselves out very quickly and we always ensure that every one gets to do a task. It could be pond skimming or den-building, which is a big favourite with the younger ones. Kids need to have a laugh, learn something and have fun.’

This collage (of the seeds produced by all the farms on the Estate) was given to Stuart and Tessa Casely as a thank you from one of the schools that visited Gore Farm

This collage (of the seeds produced by all the farms on the Estate) was given to Stuart and Tessa Casely as a thank you from one of the schools that visited Gore Farm

Although the primary aim is to educate the children, as Stuart explains: ‘It’s often the adults who are more amazed. Those aged between 20 and 40 seem never to have learnt about the land. They are amazed, for example, at all the Farm Assurance certification we have to do. They also expect us to be earning loads of money and you have to explain that, when you have to give cattle up to 55 kilos of feed a head per day for every day of the year, it costs money.’

They restrict the number of visitors in a group to 30, for two reasons: it’s the capacity of the trailer and it’s a manageable number for Tessa and Stuart to handle; ‘In the first year,’ Stuart explains, ‘we had no separate loos or washing facilities. We’d have 50 kids tramping upstairs in the house to use the loo and wash their hands. Tess soon put a stop to that. Now we have permanent hand-washing a loo facilities on the farm, we do a loo visit and hand-wash when the kids arrive so it’s out of the way.’

Such has been the success of Gore Farm as an example of diversification, other estates within the ECT have been passed the idea. As to the future, Stuart and Tessa are confident. ‘The Ernest Cook Trust have changed their logo to include the words “Learning from the land”,’ says Stuart, ‘which is an incredibly powerful statement about how supportive they are of this scheme.’
The ECT’s Agent and Director, Nicholas Ford, is equally positive: ‘Each month around 1000 children visit our farms, woodlands and rivers. The Caselys are making a major contribution to this vital part of the Trust’s work.’

credit for pics 1&2 Alexander Caminada

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