HUNDREDS of curious youngsters gathered in Northumberland yesterday to learn more about life in the countryside.
More than 1,620 primary school pupils from 42 schools across Northumberland and Tyneside left their classrooms behind and descended on the Glendale Showground in Wooler for the rural teach-in.
The day out with a difference gave them hands-on experience in traditional countryside crafts such as auctioneering, dry stone walling, poultry plucking and butchery.
The youngsters were given lessons about the growing of crops and the rearing of livestock which they eat in their daily diets, as well as meeting those involved at the sharp end of the production process.
They were the latest pupils to take part in the Glendale Agricultural Society’s annual Children’s Countryside Day, one of the biggest outdoor educational events of its kind in the UK.
Free to schools, the event brings in children from rural and urban backgrounds across Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, and teaches them about the contribution which farming and rural activities make to everyone’s lives.
Yesterday there were 65 displays, all staffed voluntarily by more than 150 local farmers, 50 stewards and food producers, landowners and rural organisations.
The main theme of this year’s event was Grow Eat Grow, with the focus on showing youngsters how their food is grown and produced at a time when drought is threatening major problems in the Middle East and North Africa.
The giant outdoor classroom had its own purpose-built, fully-stocked allotment, together with a garden shed complete with tools and a wheelbarrow.
For many of the children, yesterday’s trip was their first chance to see where their food comes from, and to see, touch, feel, taste and smell it fresh from the ground. Jayne Watson, who chairs the GAS Children’s Countryside Day, said: “Grow Eat Grow is a way of encapsulating the basic principles of you are what you eat.
“With a difficult economy and rising concern about food miles, growing your own is becoming more and more popular.
“Many of those attending today are more used to an urban environment, so we hope it will encourage them to think about growing some food at home, or even thinking about their own allotment. The idea of the 2011 event is to show the diverse range of food produced in Northumberland, from crops to livestock to feedstuffs and food products.
“This is the first time that many of the children have the chance to see how their food is grown close up, so there are sure to be a few surprises.
“Along with a variety of livestock, they are also seeing how these raw materials are transformed into the end products with which they may be more familiar, such as ice creams, cheeses and sausages.”
The main funders who make the event possible are LEADER, Cheviot Futures, The Joicey Trust, De Clermont Charitable Trust, Countryside Foundation for Education, Hadrian Trust, Northumberland Estates and Dickinson Dees. New exhibitors this year included Slow Food Berwick, A& J Scott and The Moredun Foundation.