Carole Brunton is living her dream. As the project coordinator for the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) Fife division, she organises hundreds of events for thousands of students each year that teach them about our local farming community. Her passion for her work is clear: “I always said that if I could write a job description for the perfect job then this is it.”
RHET Fife’s primary work includes organizing farm visits and classroom talks for schoolchildren throughout the Fife Council area. In the past school year, RHET Fife has organized 97 farm visits, which have allowed for over 2,500 children to visit the countryside. Once there, they learn about food and farming from the local farmers whose land they are on. Additionally, RHET Fife has delivered 79 classroom talks, benefitting almost 2,000 children.
Carole says: “There is an increased need for the work of RHET to allow our young people to have an enhanced understanding of the rural environment of Scotland, the dynamic nature of food, farming and countryside activities and the vital contribution such activities make to sustaining Scotland’s economy and way of life.”
During a farm visit, students will visit different stations, each one focusing on a different farming task: sheep sheering, machinery, livestock or pond dipping, for example.
Polly Lawman, a third-year student, has volunteered at one of RHET Fife’s Food and Farming Days. She manned the cereals station, where she taught schoolchildren about different grains. She says: “They’re trying to teach them about where their food comes from. Some of the kids don’t know that vegetables grow in the ground and that meat comes from cows. So they’re trying to teach them about where their food comes from and also about promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
Catherine de Kiewiet, a fourth-year student and the Head of Charity for Welly Ball 2013, has also volunteered at a Food and Farming Day. “I was post on a station about honey, so [teaching kids] about how you get honey from bees,” she said. “Most children don’t know that! It’s an aspect that schools are really missing.”
Luckily, it seems that the schoolchildren who attend these events enjoy themselves as much as the volunteers do. Polly says: “I really enjoyed going to the [farm] visits because the children really love being out of the classroom.” Carole adds: “I really enjoy the job, especially when a pupil tells you at the end of the visit that it’s been the best day of their life.”
RHET Fife plays an important role in the local community. In addition to reaching out to younger students, the charity has also involved many St Andrews students in its work. For example, Polly grew up on a farm in southern England. She was happy to learn of RHET after reading about the charity in the magazine Farmer’s Weekly. After emailing Carole about how she could help, she soon found herself at meetings with local farmers and teaching children how flour is made.
Aa a geography student who is interested in teaching, and particularly outdoor education, Polly has learned a lot from RHET Fife herself. “It’s fun to meet different people, farmers and adults in jobs,” she says. Her experience with the charity has been wholly positive. “I’m very passionate about what they do,” she says.
St Andrews student organizations have also worked with RHET Fife. In the past few years, the Lumsden Club and the Welly Ball Committee have donated both time and money to the charity.
Carole says: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with both [groups]. Their volunteering at events has been invaluable to us, and I think the students have enjoyed it, too.” She is right in her assumption. “I learned a lot, actually,” Catherine said of her day volunteering.
Kathryn Cherkas, a fourth-year student and member of the Lumsden Club, said in a statement: “RHET’s work to educate children across Fife about local farming and agriculture, as well as promote sustainability initiatives and businesses, is truly inspiring, and the Lumsden Club is proud to have been able to be involved in their work over the years.”
RHET Fife is unique in that all their events are free of charge. (However, transportation costs are not covered.) Their costs are covered by various trusts, sponsorships and donations. The charity also relies heavily on the generosity of local farmers who donate their time and land for farm visits and fundraising events.
The financial support provided by the Lumsden Club and Welly Ball committee have allowed RHET Fife to run events for pupils from local schools that would not be able to cover transportation costs otherwise.
In 2013, the Welly Ball Committee donated £12,000 to RHET Fife. About their choice of charity, Catherine said: “We always go for local charities, a charity that’s particularly small, because we just give that one-off donation, and it goes a lot further to give it to a smaller charity.”
As Head of Charity for the event, Catherine was responsible for promoting RHET Fife and making sure that people knew where their money was going when they bought their ticket. This awareness was important to her and the entire committee because “we’re giving such huge money, and people are paying so much for these tickets,” she said.
Based on her own experience volunteering and working with Carole, Catherine was clearly impressed by the charity. “Carole’s amazing,” she said. “She basically runs the whole thing. She only gets paid for a certain amount of hours, but the hours she actually works are unreal.” (In fact, scheduling an interview with Carole was a bit of a challenge because she spent last week caring for over 100 lambs born in just eight days on the farm she shares with her husband, Ian.)
Going forward, Carole hopes that more University students will get involved with RHET Fife. “I hope that students will enjoy hearing what RHET Fife does,” Carole said, “and appreciate how important it is for Scottish farmers to educate young people and encourage them to support local farmers and their produce.”
To learn more about RHET Fife, go to www.rhet.org/inyourarea/fife.