Name: Nick Baker
Job: Head of farm education
For: Farmlink/Alvis Brothers
Nick Baker runs the farming education programme at Lowerstock Farm in Somerset, as part of the Farmlink charitable scheme. Nick hosts school visits and teaches in schools about the countryside, how it works and what it produces. Nick worked in farming from a very young age, and after a 6 year stint as a fireman, came to work for the Alvis brothers, who eventually tasked him with running their education programme 12 years ago. Nick is affectionately known in the area as 'Farmer Nick', and has taught tens of thousands of children about the countryside and British farming.
Hi Nick. What do you do?
My job is to reconnect people with the countryside. We bring them out to the countryside and show them how it all works environmentally, financially and what it produces. This is all as part of the Farmlink charity, on a farm owned by the Alvis brothers. It’s a 4,500 acre estate, the biggest estate in North Somerset, with 1600 cows, producing 3500 tonnes of cheese every year. That’s actually relatively small scale production, it’s a small family run business.
When did you start working here?
I’ve been here for 37 years. I used to manage this part of the farm, rearing the dairy units (calves that will eventually become cows). 12 years ago John Alvis gave me the opportunity to do educational work full time. He and I had always talked about it, about getting people in touch with the countryside, what it’s for and about. He put his money where his mouth was, and financed the whole deal. He now pays me to run it all.
We have children out on the farm during the summer, from key stages 1, 2, 3, 4, right up to A-level students. During the winter, I go into schools, teaching various different lessons.
I teach between ten and twelve thousand kids a year.
Did you always want to work in farming?
My father moved to the countryside when I was ten years old, from Caterham in Surrey. It was my first introduction to the countryside, and I loved it so much I went and worked on a farm every opportunity I got, from 10 years old onwards. When I left school I went and worked full time on a farm for a couple of years. I always wanted to be a fireman though, so I went back to London and was a fireman there for 6 years. But once you’ve got farming in you, you have to go back to it. So I got a job here on Alvis’s farm, and have been here ever since.
What sort of lessons do you teach then?
On the farm, I do lessons on food production. We produce cheese here, so they see the cows being milked, where they live, where the cheese is made, stored, packed and sold. Here on the farm we also do geography, orienteering, all that sort of stuff.
Going into schools, I do various different lessons. I teach a Food Miles lesson, looking at where your food comes from, how much energy it uses, all that sort of business, which a lot of kids aren’t aware of. I go to the supermarket, and buy lots of fruit and veg from all over the world. I take it to school, talk to the kids, and then prompt them to take something from the box and decide how we prepare it for eating, where in the world it comes from, and how much it costs. Kids get very engaged in that.
I also teach healthy lunchbox lessons in schools, and teach them about plants and growth, always followed by a visit to the farmer to deal with these plants in a real life situation.
What work is there around these lessons?
There’s a lot of preparation for a lesson, for instance we were doing a food production lesson today on cheese. So to prepare for that I have to make sure every stage of the tour is safe, make sure there’s no dead animals about (that’s all they’ll think about for the whole day otherwise!), brief the people doing the milking that they’re coming, the same at the dairy packing and store areas. Then I go and welcome them and take them through the tour, talk to them about whats going on, and try and engage them. Then they come to the classroom and I prompt them through some writing on it, so they can take it back to school, and the teacher then has some material to work with.
Does anyone else work with you?
I have one colleague, Diane, who works with me. She’s an ex school teacher, she worked at a comprehensive school for 45 years. She works part time, and definitely brings the much needed discipline of a teacher. I fly by the seat of my pants, I have no script. She spent the first 6 months just writing down the lessons I was giving. She was so organised as a teacher, used to relying on lesson plans. So she organises me.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Keeping going. These kids get here at 10 and don’t leave til 2.30 so I might have to be talking for 3.5 hours, and I have to keep their attention. It’s quite exhausting.
Are there many opportunities in countryside education?
No, there’s not many jobs out there, you’ve got to create your own.
What hours do you work?
Yesterday morning I started at 4am, and finished at about 4.30pm. I average 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s very flexible, but when the kids are here, that’s not flexible at all. The rest of the time I suit myself, my boss just pays me and I get on with it.
Apart from you, who might be good at your job?
Anybody who can make up stories, and who can convince kids that they’re right.
Are you good at switching off from work?
I don’t switch off. I work 7 days a week and that’s it. I can sit down at night and have a glass of wine, I’m not a workaholic, I just love work and I get on with it.
Become a teaching assistant. Go and work in a school, and get some experience of teaching.
Don’t think that when you leave school you can walk straight into a job if you’ve got no previous experience. It won’t work. Byt the time you’re 18 you could have so much experience in things like community work. That will get you a job. If you go to university, and still do nothing, and become a teacher by the time you’re 23, you’re buggered. You’ve got to do extra curricular, community things. If you want to do that sort of job, you should be willing to do that anyway. It’s not a question of whether you can be bothered or not. You’ve got to love it, and really give your life to it.
Anything you’d change?
No I don’t think so.