Orchard Manor‘s skills tutor Tracey Demartino accompanied two groups of young disabled people to Russell’s Farm in Duxford.
The young people who attended the ‘Let Nature Feed Your Senses’ farm visits have learning difficulties (including autism) and are all wheelchair users. Many of the young people also have sensory impairments.
Two groups attended Russell’s Farm on two separate visits. The young people have complex and diverse needs and it was vital to stimulate all of their senses through sight, touch, smell and sound.
Russell’s Farm is an arable farm, and has an area that has been sectioned off specifically to allow for wheelchair users to access the crops – tall crops at wheelchair height such as barley, wheat and sugar beet allowed the groups to touch, feel and smell the crops.
Tracey explained: “The farmers were so thoughtful. Wheelchair access can be a challenge on a farm, but they had thought of everything – even putting down cardboard in areas where the ground was particularly uneven. They were also brilliant at presenting information in a way that made it accessible to each person. I was thrilled the young people were so engaged. They responded really positively to the environment. The farm visits were something that many of the young people had never experienced before and to see them engaged in something so different was great.”
For the young people, and particularly those with a range of impairments, the sensory nature of the visit was essential. As well as touching the barley and wheat straight out of the ground, they felt the grains crushed up, releasing a more concentrated smell. This gave them a multi-sensory experience of the various crops. They also had the opportunity to listen to the sounds of nature, to feel the wind and to benefit from the fresh air. Towards the end of the visit, it began to rain and the group absolutely loved it. Tracey said: “We all found being outside in the rain so funny, we hurried off to a big hangar to take shelter and so we could listen to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof. A tractor was waiting and we finished our visit listening to the sound of the tractor’s engine, something the group had never heard before.”
The second group had a three-stage visit. As Russell’s Farm is local to Orchard Manor, the host farmer came to visit the young people eight weeks before the farm visit. She brought with her seed potatoes and all the necessary equipment for the group to grow their own potatoes. She talked to the group about how to grow them, what the plants needed to grow and why we might want to grow potatoes. Tracey said: “Everyone was really engaged at that point. Realising that crisps and chips are made from potatoes was very exciting.”
When the group then visited the farm two months later, they took their potato plants with them, and actually harvested them on the farm. They then took them back to Orchard Manor and used them in a cookery session with Tracey, to make potato wedges and potato salad.
Tracey explained: “This three-part visit really supported the group to consider and appreciate the story of food. Having the opportunity to be hands on by growing and harvesting their own potatoes was a really rewarding experience and really helped engage the group.”