It was raining – a lot. It seemed unfair that my first day volunteering for a charity would be tarred by the risk of pneumonia and drowning; particularly as the previous week had been so warm.
Farmplan allows employees to take 2 paid days per year to volunteer for a charity of their choice. For a small group of colleagues the last 4 of these days had been spent here… Jamie’s Farm is a residential programme for vulnerable children from challenging urban schools. Students are divorced from their mobiles, the internet and TV, before being introduced to farm life, including: rearing livestock, gardening and cooking.
I was kitted out with wellies and waterproofs and set to work. My colleagues proudly pointed out that on a previous trip they had shovelled several tonnes of soil into a greenhouse, in which students had now planted herbs and vegetables. Our job was to clear the area around this greenhouse and weed a nearby flower bed. Jim merrily brandished his strimmer whilst the rest of us tackled the weeds by hand (some the size of small trees).
Lunch was well-earned. A butternut squash soup painstakingly prepared by the guys at Jamie’s Farm, using the world’s most temperamental blender. On the mantelpiece were photos taken during a previous photoshoot. The team told use about a recent royal visit from the Duchess of Cornwall and plans to open a third site in Monmouthshire. We were also introduced the sheep dog who we’d be spending part of our afternoon with.
Mark, the farm manager, strategically positioned us along the road. In a few moments, he’d be driving his flock of sheep up towards us and it was our job to make sure they made it into the correct field. This responsibility weighed heavily on our shoulders. As part of an organisation which develops sheep and cattle management software (which we had previously donated to Jamie’s Farm) we all felt the pressure to perform.
It was a huge relief when the first couple of sheep made it through the correct gate (we had been assured that the rest would follow, which they dutifully did). As the chance of embarrassing failure declined, shouting and waving your arms even became a little enjoyable. Luke – who had never been on a Farm before – was particularly enthused and has since made plans to test drive tractors.
By this stage, we had almost stopped noticing the constant rain. As if the clouds knew this, out of malicious spite the rain came down much harder and even the dogs disappeared inside. We rushed to finish-up before the staff at Jamie’s Farm finally saved us, bringing cake baked by the previous week’s visitors.
As someone new to the industry the experience was hugely valuable. Not only does it feel great to support a local charity, but exposure to a working farm puts into perspective the daily chores and challenges facing farmers. Racing home for a hot shower and nursing my blisters, I promise myself that I’ll buy wellies which fit before our next visit.