A schools’ competition challenging pupils from across Northern Ireland to ‘Dig in!’ and put their creative skills to the test while learning about farming has launched for 2021.

The annual competition is open to all playgroups, nursery, primary, and special schools in NI and is run by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), in partnership with Bank of Ireland Virtual Farm Weekend and Asda.

This year’s theme ‘Celebrating 10 years of Open Farm Weekend’, also marks a decade of the UFU’s food and farming education resource ‘Dig in!’, which encourages pupils to learn more about food, farming, and the countryside.

‘A special year’

UFU deputy president David Brown said: “This is a very special year for Virtual Farm Weekend.

“We are delighted to be celebrating 10 successful years of this initiative, highlighting daily life on working farms with a particular focus on those from non-farming backgrounds, illustrating the farm to fork story and helping to cultivate an understanding of quality farming practices.

“The schools’ competition utilises the UFU and Agri Aware’s ‘Dig in!’ resource which encourages school children to think about the origin of food and the importance of farming and local food production in NI.

“The schools’ competition offers an opportunity for teachers and parents to start the discussion in their homes and classrooms about the importance of food and farming in NI.

“This encouragement is vital to support children to learn more about how farmers work hard to produce the delicious, healthy food on our tables, and the many ways we look after the countryside which everyone enjoys.”

2021 ‘Dig in!’ schools’ competition categories

The 2021 schools’ competition includes new categories to differentiate between younger age groups.

The competition and tasks are split in to five sections as follows:

  • Foundation level (nursery, pre-school and playgroups): – ‘Celebrating 10 years of Open Farm Weekend’ – Decorate the picture of the farmer celebrating 10 years of Open Farm Weekend.
  • Foundation level (P1 and P2): ‘Celebrating 10 years of Open Farm Weekend’ – Decorate the picture of the farmers and their friends.
  • Key Stage 1 (P3 and P4): ‘Celebrating 10 years of Open Farm Weekend’ – Pupils should design a poster that helps Open Farm Weekend celebrate 10 years.
  • Key Stage 2 (P5, P6 and P7): ‘What farming means to me’ news report. Pupils should create a news report highlighting what farming means to them. Illustrations may be used to enhance this piece.
  • Special schools: Pupils may enter any section of the competition.

‘Dig in!’ was produced by the UFU with the help of Agri Aware. It is an educational resource teachers can use to help primary school children understand where their food comes from, life on the farm, and the importance of food and farming to Northern Ireland’s economy.

While the competition includes several prizes for the best entries, one of the highlights is that schools do not need to win in order to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about working farms.

Prizes include:

  • £200 for the winning school in each section plus £250 in lieu of transport to a farm;
  • £40 for the winning pupil in each section;
  • £100 for the runner-up school in each section plus Bramley apple tree;
  • £20 for the runner-up pupil in each section.

Brown added: “I encourage all schools, parents, guardians and teachers to participate in what is a very worthwhile competition and can be a fun, interactive family activity during the current circumstances.

“This free virtual event showcases NI’s world-class ‘farm to fork’ journey and provides school children and their families with an opportunity to see where their food is produced.

“The Bank of Ireland Virtual Farm Weekend steering group are working extremely hard on a virtual event which will be taking place on Friday, July 30 to Sunday, August 1, 2021.”

The closing date for entries for the ‘Dig in!’ schools’ competition is Friday, May 21, 2021. Schools competition templates are available on the UFU website.