Journal 25 May 2021
Horticulture and Food Education at Dumfries House
Since HRH The Prince of Wales saved Dumfries House and the surrounding estate in 2007, a host of buildings and outdoor areas across our 2000 acres have been customised to provide educational opportunities to young people, including in the field of food, farming and horticulture.
Each year, thousands of children can visit the special collection of rare breed animals at Valentin’s Education Farm and learn about gardening, horticulture and food preparation by growing their own vegetables and learning how to cook them. The workshops and tours can be as uplifting and inspiring for the pupils as they are satisfying for the expert tutors delivering the experience.
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the change in attitude of pupils, especially those who maybe think they won’t be interested, to being so enthusiastic about learning and showing great understanding and interest in where food comes from,” says Iona Murray, food, farming and horticulture tutor for The Prince’s Foundation at Dumfries House. “Among younger pupils, it is particularly gratifying to see them trying something new, saying, ‘Oh no, I’m not eating that!’ and seeing them slowly come round and trying — and enjoying — it. It’s also very pleasing seeing classes and pupils returning to the estate and reciting facts they’ve learned on a previous trip, proving that they have absorbed some of the information we’ve given them.
“The biggest, overarching aim in everything we teach is to try to get people to be more sustainable in the choices they make. For us, the focus is on the food choices we make. Starting at primary school discussing food miles and pollution and showing pupils that growing their own produce is an option can, if we get there early enough, lead to them later in life making conscious decisions about food and sparking an interest in food issues. They may become aware of the issues importing food from far afield, seeing the value in buying from local markets, and making food choices as they grow.
“Our work in this area is important because of the issues we’re facing globally around how growing populations will be fed sustainably. It’s so important that these issues are filtered right down to individual people, especially children when they’re growing up." - Iona Murray, food, farming and horticulture tutor.
"If these issues are kept only at government and United Nations level, there won’t be real change. But if people learn, real change can be made in their everyday lives in terms of the choices they make."
Valentin’s Education Farm on Dumfries House estate is where thousands of young visitors each year observe, learn about, and engage with rare-breed animals. Children will follow food journeys and learn about the importance of building sustainable food production systems. As part of seasonal, interactive workshops, they can handle newborn chicks, discover the versatility and value of wool, or have a go at stockjudging to help them appreciate the wide range of skills and career opportunities in farming, food production and related industries.
At the far end of The Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden, in the Pierburg Building and adjacent Kauffman Education Garden, children have the opportunity to sow, cultivate, and harvest fruit and vegetables before preparing them to produce healthy, nutritious dishes comprising ingredients sourced from just yards away. They can advance their kitchen skills further by engaging in classes at our cook school, The Belling Hospitality Training Centre, where our professional chefs share their expertise in cooking simple, delicious meals.
“Across all of our education centres, we can deliver such a wide range of workshops all year round,” explains Iona. “We can be harvesting and cooking seasonal ingredients as part of Halloween Harvest, studying the changing of the seasons in the gardens and on the farm, and meeting all the new lambs, chicks and piglets as they arrive throughout Spring.
“We emphasise the importance of eating locally and using food that’s in season while subsequently reducing any waste. The children gain an appreciation of the journey their food makes with the idea that, if there is a handful of tomatoes left in the fridge and they know those tomatoes have been grown in Spain, made it through all the quality checks, gone through ten pairs of hands, flown on a plane, and entered the supermarkets before being bought, they are much less likely to waste them.”
Iona helped lead the inaugural instalment of The Prince’s Foundation’s Growing Together, Cooking Together programme, which involved pupils from two schools local to Dumfries House, Netherthird Primary and Greenmill Primary. The programme focuses on skills in growing vegetables, as well as sustainable gardening, encouraging wildlife and protecting soil. Twenty-three pupils aged 8-10 at Muirkirk Primary School in East Ayrshire are enrolled on the programme this year, working with education tutors from The Prince’s Foundation to broaden their knowledge of food and to develop a vegetable garden in school grounds that will, in time, be utilised by the whole school and the wider Muirkirk community.
Class teacher Christopher Jackson said: “The goal is to have a space that is recognised in the community as being for all, a shared space that we can all contribute to. It is hoped that through the project, there is a greater emphasis on what we choose to buy and eat and carefully consider where our produce comes from.
“We hope that the community garden is a space the community care for all year around and provides a space where they can engage with the school in a friendly and relaxed manner. We are also hopeful that the knowledge of our pupils flowers just like their produce and they are then able to pass the torch onto the younger pupils.
“Our older pupils regularly watch the news in the morning so have a real knowledge of the impact climate change is having on the Earth. They are eager to act and sustainability issues regularly crop up in interdisciplinary learning. As their environment changes, they are eager to play their part both for their own future and the future of their own children. Food and farm education is one of the key areas of learning where we can impart the knowledge and skills pupils will need to help them better care for the Earth.”
As many pupils engaged in nature-based learning on Dumfries House estate will know, “great oaks from little acorns grow”. The Prince’s Foundation’s food education programmes continue to reach more and more children, promoting healthy lifestyle choices and outdoor learning with Iona and her colleagues.
The Prince’s Foundation’s Horticulture and Food Education programmes are supported by Mr and Mrs Yury Shamara and The Nineveh Charitable Trust.