Dairy farmer PJ Power is educating the younger generation about the realities of life on a farm
Mullinavat farmer PJ Power was fed up of hearing negative comments about farming — so he decided to do something about it.
“I heard about Farmer Time on the radio one morning and, like most farmers, I’m not happy with how farming is portrayed in the mainstream media. It seems that if it’s not aimed at farmers, it is anti-farming.
“Even the farming organisations, they’re not doing themselves a whole lot of favours. They don’t seem to be trying to win over the consumer.
“So I got involved in Farmer Time. I got into it so people would see at an early age that farmers are just like everyone else.”
Now, every six weeks PJ is beamed into a classroom of children in Bray, Co Wicklow to discuss his farm.
During the call the children get to ask PJ what he’s doing on the farm and what’s happening that week.
“I’ll have sent in the teacher some pictures of what has been happening. For instance, I was doing a herd test and sent them pictures of the vet testing them.
“Previously there was a pregnancy scan on the cows and the children were asking how it went. They’re fourth class and seem really engaged with it.
“The questions are not philosophical , they are more about the day-to-day — as well as if I have a favourite cow! I had to invent a favourite cow for that, but usually the questions are about what the calves drink, how long for a cow to have a calf and how many calves does the cow have.
“They are not completely naive about where food and meat comes from, which is great. But I was surprised that just one girl in the class had an uncle who is a farmer. That was the only real connection to farming in the class.”
Class teacher Ms Dagg says it was amazing to watch the children become so invested in a farm they have never visited. “There was no way we could have missed calls with PJ — I wouldn’t have been allowed,” she says.
“The class are in an urban school with very little awareness of farming. They got to learn about the workings of a dairy farm and how PJ’s year was led by the seasons and the cycle of life on the farm — how he was very busy at certain times of the year with no time off and slightly less busy at other times of the year.
“They learned a lot about what cows eat, when calves are born, weight of animals, vet visits, scanning cows to check for calves and what happens to the calves once they are born.”
PJ is milking 60 cows on the farm outside Ballynooney and has around 55 acres of forestry, which he started planting back in 2000.
“We’ve added a few bits to the forestry over the years. What we’ve planted is marginal land and there was a heavy push on forestry at the time. I’m glad now we planted as we’re starting to thin it and it’s beginning to make financial sense. The land wasn’t great for anything else.”
PJ says he loves having the opportunity to portray farming in a real and positive way.
“It only takes 15 minutes of my time to talk to the kids about what I’m doing. When they switch on the TV and see farming being portrayed in a negative light, at least they might now think ‘that’s not the farmer we have visit our school’.”
And the Farmer Time programme is looking for more farmers. Organiser Ruth Fitzsimon says the programme, which is run through the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, Dublin, is recruiting more farmers in the coming months so that every school that applies can be matched with a farmer come September.
“We already have a waiting list of schools. The programme links farmers with the consumers of tomorrow through virtual visits to the classroom throughout the school year,” she says.
“The aim is to inspire, engage and educate young people about not only the journey from farm to fork but also the ever-changing, diverse agricultural industry. Children will regularly chat live to their matched farmer from their classrooms virtually, so they can discuss ideas, ask questions, share knowledge, and gain a ‘real-time’ understanding of the issues farmers face every day.”
In its first academic year, Farmer Time reached over 1,200 students across Ireland through its paring with 53 schools, of which 75pc are primary and 25pc are secondary.
“We brought 320 hours of learning linked to farming, food and agriculture into primary and secondary schools and it really sits so well within the mission of Airfield Estate’s Education department: helping people understand and learn more about food, to make the best food choices they can.”
Any farmers interested in taking part should contact Ruth by emailing email@example.com or logging on to airfield.ie