For the past couple of years. we have been lucky enough to get National Trust passes as Christmas presents, which gives us unlimited thrifty days out across the country. However there are only so many historic houses you can take your offspring around before they start demanding more excitement, and this is where Wimpole Home Farm comes in very useful, so we visit regularly. I’ve also recently been taking part in the Trust’s ‘MyFarm’ project to help the family learn more about the source of their food, as well as the agricultural heritage of the local area surrounding us, and the National Trust has asked me to post about the experience.
The website for MyFarm is a good reflection of what the farm is actually like, with lots of information about rare breeds, farming practices and opportunities to ask questions about why certain decisions are made, or how farms are run. The professional farmers behind the MyFarm concept are very accessible and no question seems to be too simple. For someone whose sole experience of farming in the last 20 years has been listening to the Archers and hearing David and Ruth endlessly lament their declining milk yields, this is invaluable in gaining proper information about what is happening to promote rare breeds and put food on our plates (you can even eat rare breed bacon sandwiches and sausages in the cafe, if you are prepared to brave the queue, but it would probably be a bad idea to tell the children exactly where their lunch has come from, as I found out to my cost).
Wimpole really is a very special place. It’s a paradise of fields, miniature tractors for children to ride, an adventure playground and instructive displays about farming past and present in the historic barns. Plus it’s full of a varied collection of animals, from bizarre chickens that look as though they have had a fight with a hairdresser and come off worse, to cows obligingly taking part in milking displays, newly hatched chicks, rabbits and donkeys that can be groomed. One of my children says about their visits, “I enjoy seeing how the animals react when people go near them, and how they get on in life whilst people are watching them.” In particular the children seem to adore seeing the baby animals, particularly the piglets swarming out of their pens to sniff the feet of visitors (take a camcorder if you can, as it’s hilarious to watch, not least because your children will be torn between excitement and panic if this happens). Watching the animals remotely on the MyFarm webcam intrigued them as well. “Is that really Wimpole?” one said, “Are those goats going to have babies? Will we see it happen?” It came as a shock when they realised that just because it was on a screen, this did not mean well-timed instantaneous action. Real life and real farming work differently from television programmes and films, and there are no editors.
Our next challenge is to vote on which of the three rare breed herds (Gloucester, Irish Moiled or Shetland) gets a bull to share in honour of Valentine’s Day, as the farm can only afford to hire one. From the human point of view this seems a shame, as I am sure all the girls would appreciate a bit of romance in bull form, and I will be hard pressed to choose between all the worthy causes – I feel rather like Cilla Black on Blind Date. Voting opens on 8th February and closes on 13th February, so you might want to sign up as well and help the rest of us armchair farmers decide.
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