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Ear to the Ground Mag

Ear to the Ground Feature

Many thanks to the team at Ear to the Ground for allowing me share my inspiration behind AgriKids.

Where did the motivation for the Tales From Riverside Farm book series come from?

The rise in accidents last year really frightened me. I looked at my husband and my young son and I felt helpless to the fact that they too could end up as a farm safety statistic if things didn’t change. I looked to see what resources were available to help me raise awareness and to educate and realised a need for a dedicated strategy specifically for children, something that was positive, engaging as well as being educational and empowering.

Could you tell us about the character ‘Mr Brambles’?

Mr. Brambles is a magical hedge sprite with a very important day job – he creates all the different smells and perfumes in flowers, he ripens blackberries on the bushes and apples in the orchard.

From the beginning it was important to create something that was a little bit different, that had a little bit of magic and plenty of fun. I also wanted to appeal to boys and girls and I wasn’t happy having a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’ fairy, I felt it lacked imagination. When I created my initial drafts I sent them to some children and was delighted with the volume of feedback – children are very honest in their opinions!!

The illustrations are great. How were they developed?

I asked a contact I knew in publishing for advice on getting an illustrator. I was directed to the Illustrators Ireland website where I could see various styles. I arranged for some quotes but I kept reverting back to the work of Martin Beckett, who is based in Donegal. I really liked how colourful and engaging his style was, it seemed a perfect fit for what I was trying to do. They have been extremely well received and I am really happy with them.

You’ve been out and about promoting the books. How have they been received?

From late June I have been attending various shows and events around the country, more recently I have doing book readings and farm safety talks in schools and libraries which has really heartened me to how enthusiastic the children are. We talk about everything from slurry to animal safety and how to recognise the warning signs. At the various county shows the women and grandparents were extremely passionate about the topic and hugely supportive of me in my endeavours. I really couldn’t have asked for more.

Last year was one of the worst on record for farm safety. What measures can we take to address the issue?

It has to be a collaborative approach. I have always been vocal about why all awareness campaigns must include all everyone, not just the farming family, but the entire rural community. We all have a role to play in improving farm safety and we can only hope to do so by everyone coming together with a uniformed approach and expected outcome.

I would love to see a dedicated authority set up specifically for farm safety and a programme to be established in primary schools that is the time we need to formally start educating our children. I am seeing it through the events and talks that
I am now orchestrating. One school asked me to chat to their second class, I am now chatting to the entire school, all the teachers wanted their class to be involved.

Through my work with Repak I saw how children were taking the recycling message from the class rooms and taking them into the homes – the same could be expected for farm safety.

There are too many excuses being bandied about – we need to change our attitudes, we need to change our behaviours, so many accidents and deaths could’ve been prevented.

Do you think we are seeing a change of mind set amongst farmers now, to ensure we don’t create a new generation of risk takers in farming?

I am seeing some evidence, but not nearly enough. We need people and families to not only talk or be aware of farm safety but actually practicing farm safety!!

Farmers are fully aware of the risks they encounter every day, but it’s getting them to change some of their approaches and practices that is ultimately going to make the difference and again this needs to be across the board.

I watched a TV show recently and was horrified by a farmer entering a pen with a cow and her newly born calf, no attempt was made to restrain the cow in advance. Naturally the cow was extremely upset and made it very obvious to the farmer about how upset she was. The farmer made jokes to the camera about how he is going to get a kick or a puck. Another programme on silage saw tractors and trailers working right next to a child’s playhouse. These incidents should not be put in the public domain, they fly in the face of every safety campaign that was ever made. They are clear examples about how far off we actually are with regards to improving our farm safety behaviours.

How difficult is it to strike a balance between allowing your child to appreciate all that living on a farm has to offer and ensuring that their safety is always paramount?

I am always conscious not to scare and deter any child from going onto a farm, I grew up on one myself as did many of my cousins. Many children who grow up on a farm may one day work on that same farm and it is hugely important that they understand all that entails. By making them safety conscious from a young age they will not just be aware of the need for safety but it will be something they already are and practice with a certain degree of fluency.

I am seeking to educate them to the dangers that are prevalent so that they can avoid an accident.

Do you have any plans to expand the business or to release another book series?

What started out as a book writing exercise has certainly found new feet along the way. I have just launched my initial range of ‘farm safe’ themed clothing and accessories and more recently I have started to co-ordinate events in schools and libraries.

However the books are the core of the business and will always be the one aspect that makes the AgriKids’ concept so unique. Each book’s theme is central to a specific area of concern regarding farm safety – livestock, machinery, drowning etc. I plan to do another 4 books with book 3 ‘The Red Tractor’, is due out in time for Christmas.

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