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Taste the harvest

Taste the harvest? That’s what most of us do every day isn’t it? Probably without thinking too much about how it was produced and the work involved in bringing it to us. However, on this occasion, 800 school children in Somerset had the chance to not only learn about the harvest, but also to plant their own wheat seeds and to follow the crop through to next year’s harvest.

It all began in September when children from 25 schools visited Staple Farm, near Taunton. Their guides for the day were local farmers who took them to see how the ground was ploughed and prepared, the crop planted and all the machinery used to grow, protect and harvest the crop. They were able to see how farming had progressed from one horse ploughing to a farmer ploughing on a tractor with the ‘power’ of 130 horses. Each school then planted their own ‘field’ (a one metre square plot) of bread wheat – hopefully to produce enough wheat for two average loaves of bread. After the children had ‘rolled’ the ground (stamped all over their plot!) they were ready for the serious job of preparing and eating lunch.

Each group contributed to preparing the meal either by digging potatoes, making bread

rolls, picking blackberries or working with local chefs to peel and prepare vegetables. One chef noted that even peeling a carrot or slicing a tomato was a first for many children with a worrying sense of apprehension in handling raw vegetables. The food was then cooked, with the kind assistance of a field kitchen from the local Naval Air Station and six Navy chefs, and in groups of 200 the children sat down to a three course meal of vegetable soup, sausages and mash and apple and blackberry crumble with custard.

After lunch the children learnt about the many foods and products produced from wheat and wheat straw, were taught about the wildlife on the farm, and enjoyed a lively harvest service thanking God for this provision.

This two day event was made possible primarily through the generous hospitality of the host farmers Mark and Julie Pope, but also through over 100 helpers including farmers, local church members, chefs and villagers who gave up their time.

The following June the schools were invited back to see their wheat plot. The children learnt about the growth of the wheat plants, overcoming the problems of pest attack, weeds and disease, and then calculated how many seeds their plot would produce to

predict their yield. The wheat was harvested in August but unfortunately, due to such a wet summer; the quality was too poor for bread making. However, some English bread wheat was acquired and in mid-September a number of the children visited one of Somerset’s two remaining water mills to learn about how the wheat is ground to flour.

Each school was then given 1kg of flour and asked to make something delicious with it. Children from 14 schools responded to the challenge and in October culinary delights including a variety of breads, cakes, scones and biscuits were taken to be judged. The judging panel, (including a Michelin starred chef) were very impressed by the imagination and quality of the entries, with the winning school presented with a ‘Master Baker’ shield.

So the whole story had been understood, from sowing to reaping to eating. Some schools had grown and studied their own wheat throughout the year, for others it had ignited a passion to grow and cook more in school. For everyone involved, it had been a chance to savour more the full taste of the harvest. 

Rob Walrond, Deanery Rural Officer, Diocese of Bath & Wells


green and pleasant land

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