Sunday, April 14, 2024
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HomeBeef‘There is a disconnect between farming and what we eat these days’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘There is a disconnect between farming and what we eat these days’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Ruth Fitzsimon, Farmer Time Ireland Administrator | Community Manager.

“Farmer Time started in the UK with farmer, Tom Martin, and now, six years later, Farmer Time is having an international impact.

Ireland is one of six countries running the school programme alongside Finland, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand.

Farmer Time Ireland was launched nationwide by Airfield Estate in September 20221, after a trial with a small number of schools and farmers earlier that year.

I came on board soon afterwards in October as programme administrator, and my role involves co-ordinating the programme, supporting our growing community, and acting as ambassador PR.

I love sharing the story and success of what we are achieving together; online, offline, in-person and at events, and across media.

Food and people are two things I love most. Without getting too Whitney on you. ‘I believe the children are our future’.

If we cannot pass on a sense of value and pride in the quality of Irish food, what it takes to produce it, and how to sustain that, we are failing them and our farmers.

Information gives us the power to make good decisions. Food education must involve children and students, encourage their curiosity, and deepen their understanding.

I have worked in radio, social and digital before. This role ticks a lot of boxes. Building a community through storytelling and conversation with a sense of purpose.

Farmer Time 

Farmer Time was set up to help school children better understand where food comes from and engage in learning about farming in the classroom.

We find it is a real opportunity to join the dots about farming and the food on our plates.

There is a disconnect between farming and what we eat these days, especially for schoolgoers.

They just are not as exposed to farming as generations before so do not associate the two.

Building a connection across an academic year and the seasons create a broad understanding of farming life and how it relates to our own.

We completed our first full academic year with 53 farmer: teacher pairings. That almost doubled for farmers by autumn.

Interest grew as word spread across farming networks, agricultural events and later to staff rooms and teachers.

It is still growing! Even now, we are registering new pairings and look forward to growing the impact of Farmer Time even more in its second year.

How it works

It is designed as an interactive virtual programme for primary and secondary schools. We link farmers and students through digital video calls from their classroom to the farm.

Pupils ask questions of their farmer or food producer, with teachers shaping the learning, connecting it to what is being covered in class.

Putting farmers directly in front of a class brings curriculum learning to life. Farming is unique in that way.

It can be connected to so many subjects; Aistear & SESE, History, Geography, Science, Maths and Ag Science.

This year, we have had some TY Ag Science lunch clubs registering. There is a real interest in the future of agriculture at school level, from a young age up.

Teachers and farmers register via Airfield’s website or email [email protected]. Farmers complete Garda vetting.

Each 1:1 pairing works together to schedule fortnightly digital video calls using Zoom, FaceTime, Teams – whatever suits. I am on hand for regular contact and support across the year. Real connections work on a slow burn, and that is what makes Farmer Time special.

Teachers, their classes, and paired farmer chat regularly throughout the year. They build a relationship.

The learning happens through distributed practice – several short bursts across an extended time – it goes beyond a worksheet or webinar on farming.


Students develop a curiosity about nature and explore agriculture and the world around them. They build language skills, grow their vocab, and become comfortable asking questions.

Farmers tell us they enjoy a renewed sense of purpose, of giving back. They value the chance to shape farming in a positive way and recognise the gap they can fill in the farm-to-fork story.

Our farmer participants are a wide and varied bunch! Last year, dairy farmers made up two-thirds of the group.

The remainder included beef, sheep and pig farmers, some tillage and even a beekeeper.

Geographically, we have a wide enough distribution: 50% Leinster, 32% Munster, 10% Connaught, and 8% Ulster.

A more even spread would be terrific, if possible. In terms of gender, we are progressing towards balance; one-third of our farmers are women, up from one-quarter last year, and there is plenty more room!

Urban-rural gap

When people use the phrase, ‘rural VS urban divide’, is ‘divide’ a little harsh? It implies a clean split of some kind. Now choose your side!

The reality is those of us who eat will always need farmers. (Read that again) But it goes both ways! Consumers and food producers depend on each other. That is why understanding and being open to learning is important, from both sides.

We went to the recent Women and Agriculture conference in Trim. Dr Kirstie McAdoo, our head of education at Airfield, was invited to present on this very topic.

She talked about bridging the urban-rural gap by bringing the consumer with you as you tell the story of your farm.

Talk to them, not about them or at them. Opening up the narrative, or challenging it, is the only way to change perceptions.

It is good to talk, which is pretty much the essence behind Farmer Time.”

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