The two photos are of Staddle Stones. In one photo I am carefully examining a Staddle Stone on the grounds of Hartpury University, an agricultural university in England. The photo was taken earlier this week. So, what is a Staddle Stone? What is your hypothesis? I will reveal the answer later.
I returned to the States (as we are known in England) yesterday, after spending eight days there. My trip to England was both personal and business related. I visited my daughter and her family but also spent time with faculty and students at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) so I could learn more about English agriculture and education, and perhaps they might possibly learn something from me.
This exchange of ideas with the British is not something new in Agricultural Education. The first international experience for FFA members occurred in 1947 when six FFA members traveled to England and were hosted by the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs of Great Britain. This exchange continued for years (Connors, 2013; Tenney, 1977).
One of the things that has always “bugged” me about this bit of FFA history is why would we send high school age students to spend time with “Young Farmers?” My mind set was the young farmer club members would be in the 18-35 year-old age category. This belief was based upon my experiences in the U. S. with the National Young Farmer Educational Association (which is a part of agricultural education and is active in about half of the states). So, one of my goals during my travels was to learn more about the Young Farmers Club of Great Britain. That information follows along with some other things I learned during my trip.
Young Farmer Clubs
With over 24,500 members and 615 clubs, the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) is one of the largest rural youth organizations in the UK. The roots of the organization can be traced to 1921 but was officially established in 1932. Members range in age from 10 to 26. The YFCs are self-supporting (primarily through dues and corporate support) and are not affiliated with schools.
There is a national headquarters with a staff of about 20 people. Then there are county federations of local clubs. Most local clubs have a mix of ages; however, there are some clubs with only younger members and some that have predominately older members. The local clubs remind me very much of 4-H clubs. There are adult volunteers who help with the club but the members hold office and determine the club activities.
I visited the Gloucestershire Federation Office of the YFC. There are 12 active clubs in this county. An administrative assistant handles the paper work and a County Organisor works with the members, organizes clubs and presents education programs. This person’s duties are much like those of a 4-H agent in the U.S.
There are various competitions at the senior and junior levels locally, at the county rally and nationally. The types of competition vary from club to club and from county federation to county federation. There is livestock judging, sheep shearing, carcass judging and ploughing to name a few. There is also quiz bowl and public speaking. There is also competition in such events as skittles, ladies netball, mens five-a-side, rugby, tenpin bowling, and clay pigeon shooting. Tug-of-Was is also big.
The YFC engages in exchange programs with various countries including the 4-H in the U.S. One girl from the Gloucestshire Federation spent three weeks in Montana with a host family last year.
After learning more about the Young Farmer Clubs in England I am no longer bugged about the early exchange programs with the FFA. The members were of the same age.
Royal Agricultural University
The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) was founded in 1845 and claims to be the oldest English-speaking agricultural college in the world. The university operates under a royal charter granted by Queen Victoria in 1845. However, this did not mean the royalty or the government would fund the institution. The institution first received public funding in 2001.
The RAU claims Guelph University in Canada, Lincoln University in New Zealand, Tokyo University in Japan and Cornell University in America were modelled after the RAU.
Many of the early graduates filled posts in the Colonial Agricultural Administration and the Diplomatic and Foreign Service
The administration building looks like a castle and has a blue flag with a wheat sheaf flying over it. The “President” of the RAU is his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles). However, the actual administration and the day-to-day operation of the University is placed in the hands of the Vice-Chancellor. (The photo below is from 1935).
Women were first admitted in 1979. Up until 1985 the RAU was primarily like a vocational school and did not grant degrees. The first degree program was in rural land management. This was to prepare graduates to manage the large estates or manors that are prevalent in England. This is a very popular major. In 2013 the institution received university status. The current enrollment is around 1,450 students.
Charles Dickens visited the Royal Agricultural College in 1868 and wrote “That part of the holding of a farmer or landowner that pays best for cultivation is the small estate within the ring fence of his skull.” Quaint but true.
Renting out plots of land for gardening is a big thing in England. I stayed in the town of Cheltenham (population 116,000). The town has 15 plots of land where they rent garden spaces (called allotments). The number of garden spaces in each plot varies from a low of 10 to a high of 208 with an average being around 60 allotments. The size of each garden space varies and the rents vary from $37 to $106 dollars annually. There is a $20 application fee. In some locations there is 3-4 year wait to get a garden spot; but once you get it you can renew your lease for as long as you want.
While there are similar operations in some America cities, the British have elevated it to the next level. There is even an association of allotment owners in Cheltenham and they often have to resolve disputes between allotment holders.
The Daily Mail reports: John Weston, 61, has grown potatoes, spinach, onions and lettuces on his two plots for 20 years. But with demand for allotments soaring, his local council has evicted him saying they are not being ‘fully cultivated or maintained’.
An article in The Telegraph describes allotment wars – “Some of the worst disputes involved owners sabotaging rivals’ prize-winning vegetables, poisoning water tanks and even burning down greenhouses.”
Gardening is a pretty serious affair in England.
In the medieval age, farmers were required to give one-tenth of their produce to the Church. They would bring their grain, potatoes, or other agricultural produce to the village church or rectory where the tithe barn was located. The “tithes” were used to support the priests and the church.
The Quaint English Phone Booths
What does one do with old phone booths when everybody has cell phones? In England, defibrillators have been placed in many of them. They have detailed instructions on how to use then in an emergency.
The Groom of the Stool
I do some public speaking and picked up some new materials for one of my speeches on The History and Evolution of the Outhouse. The royalty had nice, plush toilets to use (the image shown is for the 6th wife of Henry the VIII). It was a distinct honor to be the Groom of the Stool or the First Lady of the Bed Chamber. This means you got to empty the chamber pot and to wipe the behind of the royal person. This was really a high position as you became very intimate with the king or queen. There is even a historical list of people who served in this position for the various kings.
What is a Staddle Stone?
To keep rats and other vermin out of the grain barns, the barns were built on staddle stones. The rats could not climb up the stones and the stones elevated the structure so they vermin could not reach the grain by jumping. Today, the stones are primarily garden decorations.
- The underlying message of this footnote is that international travel is educational and broadens one’s perspectives and knowledge. As teachers, we should encourage our students to explore and avail themselves of any opportunities they can find for international travel. At one time the FFA offered various opportunities for international travel but it is more limited now (check out https://www.ffa.org/global/). There are also travel opportunities with 4-H (https://www.states4hexchange.org/).
- To foster curiosity and perhaps even create a little learning about global agriculture, you might have your students go to http://nfyfc.org.uk/county_federations. This is a map of England with YFC offices identified. Have students select one at random and click on it. This will lead to the web site of the county YFC office and will have links to local clubs (many local clubs have websites or Facebook pages). Have your students identify a local club they would like to join and tell why. What are the club activities and what competitions do they participate in?
- Even though pen-pals might be considered a thing of the past, you might have some students who would like to communicate with someone their age in another country. By going to the site listed in the previous paragraph you can probably identify a contact that could facilitate this.
- If you are teaching a lesson on pest control or farm structures you could use a photo of a staddle stone as an interest approach. Ask the students what it was used for.
- If your student organization owns or has access to land, it could rent out garden plots. By having students manage the process, this could be a valuable learning experience,
Note: There are FFA organizations, 4-H Clubs and Young Farmer Clubs around the world. This is not something unique to England.
Connors, J. (2013). The History of Future Farmer Organizations Around the World. Journal of Agricultural Education Volume 54, Number 1, pp. 60 – 71 DOI: 10.5032/jae.2013.01060 60
Tenney, A, W. (1977). FFA at 50. National FFA Organization.
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