In Jersey’s farming world, anyone under the age of 40 is considered a ‘youngster’.
Traditionally the island’s most powerful industry, it’s now struggling against an ever-shrinking employee base thanks to a tide of students turning away from agriculture and towards the academic. With the whole industry at risk, will rural ever rule again?
According to 24-year-old dairy farmer Becky Houzé, the answer is yes – but only if the island can help get kids excited about agriculture again. That starts with education for the generation getting their results today.
She’s in the process of taking over 400-acre Lodge Farm and its 200 pedigree Jerseys from her father, and is one of the few young – let alone female – farmers left on the island.
“When dad finished school, he could’ve given you 200 names of friends and colleagues in the industry, but I can probably give you only one hand.”
Pictured: Becky uses Instagram to share her farm experiences with others.
The problem, she says, is that costs are too astronomical for those without family connections, and that Jersey’s education system sorely lacks agricultural qualifications.
“I knew from age 14 that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture, but there were no GCSE choices at school that were anything to do with farming.”
The former Beaulieu student was able to take an Environmental Science course at Hautlieu, but was only able to make around half of the classes because fitting it into her timetable was so difficult. “That was probably the only bit of education that related to farming, apart from a few science classes and geography classes growing up.”
Becky left school after her AS Levels, having luckily been accepted onto an Agricultural and Animal Science course at Harper Adams University, a prestigious training ground for future rural professionals. “I didn’t do my A2s because I got let in to university for the fact I stated that there were no subjects of my interests. I think they took pity on me,” she joked.
While Becky was fortunate, she expressed concerns that future Jersey students might find it difficult to pursue a similar path without the relevant qualifications.
Pictured: Grace Davies introduces a group of budding growers to the Farm School's residents.
Partially compensating for a lack of in-school education, @JerseyCowGirl Becky uses social media to insta-teach her 2,300 followers, dispelling milk myths and spreading good moos. She’s also encouraged by schools’ increased emphasis on ‘local before global’ with farm visits and extra-curricular ‘Sprouts Farm Club’ run by the Jersey Farm School for budding growers.
Grace Davies – the woman behind the initiative – agreed that Jersey schools are doing little to promote agriculture as a realistic career choice. “I loved school... but there wasn’t the option of looking at that kind of industry for me. It all just take the academic route. I think a lot of schools do look at the finance industry and push towards that.”
Grace hopes that the Farm School will help plug that gap. “We’re not trying to produce the next big farmer, but that would be fantastic.”
However, she says "it's not all doom and gloom." Attitudes are “changing slowly” and hearts and minds are gradually coming round to the idea that, “there are lots of jobs in the industry – you don’t have to get your hands dirty.” They’re now looking to guide and support 14 and 15 year olds serious about getting professionally involved.
Even if it’s not about sparking a future career, parents and schools alike are enjoying the opportunity to get children into good, wholesome food and where exactly it has come from.
Pictured: The Farm School Initiative in action.
Local blogger Laura Morel, who brought her son to the Farm School last November, wrote: “It is refreshing in this day to be able to send my son to a club that will allow him to make informed and healthy choices and learn responsibility, farming history and just what makes Jersey so fabulous.”
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