WWOOFing with children – our first time

For the past year we’ve been talking about traveling as a family. How we could afford it? When would be the best time in terms of our children’s ages? What we might do? Where we might go?

Then Laurence discovered World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an organisation which links volunteers with organic farms. We began to think about WWOOFing as a potential way of traveling while keeping costs down and experiencing the reality of places rather than just going in for the tourist version.

We also wanted to learn more about organic farming and low impact lifestyles as we’re dreaming together about what we might like to do in the future. And we figured it could be an amazing outdoors experience for the children and time together as a family doing something productive and different.

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Before we committed to going for a longer stretch, further afield, though, we wanted to try it out closer to home. So, we signed up to WWOOF UK and contacted a host family with a small sheep farm near Fowey in Cornwall.

Caitlin (who blogs at Spewing Mummy and Adventures of Muma Dean and runs Pregnancy Sickness Support, a UK charity that supports women suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum) was very encouraging of us coming to visit.

I offered money towards food as I knew our 14-month-old and 3-year-old would likely slow one of us down but she insisted all would be fine. I was still nervous, hoping that we’d work enough to make it worth them having us.

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The Deans have a beautiful farm with forty ewes (which were all heavily pregnant when we got there!). They also keep pigs, chickens and are getting a vegetable patch going to feed their WWOOFers and themselves. Their house is solar-powered and they are semi self-sustaining.

On reflection, we got very lucky to have our first time WWOOFing with them. I’m not sure how well our time there reflected what it might be like to work and stay elsewhere. For a start, it was incredibly sunny.

They admitted that the accommodation they provided was better than what they’ve experienced when WWOOFing themselves and I could easily believe it. They put us up in a static caravan, which was very comfortable and in good nick.

They provided us with bits for breakfast and lunch in the caravan. Suppers we had with their family in their home. We took some extra food too because Laurence is wheat and dairy intolerant – which could have been problematic except that one of their children is dairy intolerant.

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They were also really laid back and understanding about the kids slowing me down in terms of what work I did. I think I managed to do five hours work most days but it wasn’t always five hours’ worth of work! At fourteen months, Ophelia is at a really tricky age where she doesn’t want to stay in the sling all the time but can’t entertain herself or join in like her big sister can.

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Laurence tried to work more to compensate. It was pretty clear that his labour was more useful anyway. I’m not sure how it would work somewhere else, whether we’d take it in turns to work our required five or six hours sans kids, whether I’d occupy the kids while he’d work a long day or whether we could find a scenario where we all work alongside each other. I suppose we’re pretty clear now of what questions we need to ask, should we try WWOOFing again.

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A couple of days we managed to arrange the work around going somewhere. One afternoon we went into Fowey for lunch and a seaside ice cream. Another, we went to explore The Lost Gardens of Heligan. The rest of the time, we were pretty happy just to be on the Deans’ farm.

Both of us got a bit of a farm experience. I mainly did things that I need to be doing here at home like clearing a veg patch and sorting out a chicken coop. On the last day, I was fortunate enough to see the first of the lambing in an assisted birth. Laurence was in his element being outdoors, doing physical work. I won’t talk much about what he got into because he’ll blog about it on Chasing Wilderness soon enough.

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It felt worth it just to meet Rob and Caitlin and their children. They were so welcoming and generous and we came away inspired by their lifestyle. We were also more than a little envious of how free, strong and confident their children are, growing up in that space.

Talitha loved playing with them on the weekend and when they got home from school. It was a little tough going during the day, though she was mostly happy to join in with whatever I was doing or to entertain herself.

I found it quite difficult at times being on my own with the children for long periods of time. It made me realise that although I’m technically a stay at home mother, we spend a lot of time with other families. That’s something to think about, too, should we try WWOOFing as a family again.

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All in all, I’m really glad we did this. It was one of my 30 things to do before I turn 30 and has given me a bit more confidence to try to live more sustainably. In many ways, it’s one of the best holidays we’ve had together as a family, even if we were apart for much of the time. It’s given us a bit more to think about in terms of how we might travel and what we want to try in the future.


Ten things to do on a family holiday at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire

A few weeks ago we headed down to West Wales to stay at Bluestone National Park with Laurence’s parents. It was truly a holiday to remember. We’ve even made a little video to capture the special time it was.

We went in late March and, as you can see from how bundled up we were, it was freezing! Pembrokeshire is such a beautiful part of the world, though. If you’re going to be outdoors in cold weather, it’s exactly where you want to be.

Leading up to it, I kept collecting tips from friends who had been so we could make the most of our week there. Paying it forward, here are my ten things I think you should do if you choose to holiday at Bluestone.

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Invite the grandparents
I was actually a bit nervous about inviting Laurence’s parents to join us for this trip, not knowing what it was actually going to be like. When we entered our lodge, I breathed a sigh of relief. It really did feel quite luxurious and there was just so much space! We could more than comfortably all settle in without getting on top of each other.

With the “village” nearby, complete with cafe and pub, we could easily have gone out for a drink and left the girls with their grandparents. I say “could” because when it came to it, we were too tired to be bothered! Romance is alive, eh? We did split up and let them go off with Ophelia at one point, though, so Laurence and Talitha could cycle in tandem and I could “try” to cycle (that didn’t really happen either).

Take your bikes
But, if you are the cycling kind, then do take your bicycles with you or hire some because the grounds are pretty for cycling around and nowhere really is that far away.

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Hire a buggy
That said, it may be worth hiring a buggy if you have small children with you or anyone with mobility issues, if it rains or even just for the fun of it! The resort is car-free most of the time. We loved that. It felt safe, quiet and just a bit isolated.

Head down the big slide
For Talitha, the highlight of staying at Bluestone was going to the swimming pool! The pool area was massive, beaming with natural light, well-designed, warm and well-kept. We were pretty impressed. Talitha loved the wave machine and being carried through a trail by a gentle current. Ophelia was more a fan of the toddler pool. Laurence, however, went down the big slide, which apparently stops off at two pools along the way and I hear it was rather impressive.

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Take your own pillow
As I said, we were impressed with the digs. However, I found the beds really uncomfortable. I think I’ve finally come to that stage in life where I need to walk with my own pillow, and possibly something to line mattresses with. My experience doesn’t seem to be universally shared, though, so it may well just be me! I ended up asking Laurence to sleep in Talitha’s room so Ophelia and I could get to the centre of the bed where it was a bit less springy.

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Have lunch at Camp Smokey
There’s a stunning walk down to one of Bluestone’s eating joints, Camp Smokey. The food is sort of ranch fare, pretty tasty though the portions are a bit small. The log cabin feel can’t be beaten for charm, though, and we had fun roasting marshmallows on their fire for pudding. Do make sure that you use the loo before going down there as you’ll be port-a-looing it otherwise.

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Follow a woodland trail
The grounds themselves are pretty and have a wilderness feel. It’s definitely worth getting lost one afternoon.

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Go to the beach
I feel like this is so worth it, it needs to be said again. Go to the beach! Pembrokeshire has desperately beautiful coastlines. For Laurence, this means a chance to surf. For the kids, it’s an opportunity to play in the sand and explore rockpools. For me, it’s taking in the jagged rock, the fresh lash of the wind, the great expanse of the ocean. I’ve really come around to temperate beaches.

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Roam around a castle
We didn’t do it this time around but there are quite a few castles in the area. A couple of years ago, we had a picnic in the grounds of Carew Castle. It’s truly impressive and you could spend ages there.

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Check out other nearby attractions
The staff at The King’s Arms pub in Pembroke were keen to tell us about sights in the area. Had we been there for longer, we may have checked out Picton Castle or Folly Farm. Instead, we visited a National Trust property on our way back to Bristol.

It was such an easy place to be – a true break. In fact, we might look at going again when my parents next come over from Trinidad.

Thanks to Bluestone for inviting us to stay


Camping on a goat farm – Wookey Farm, Somerset

A year ago, Laurence and Talitha did an early Spring camping trip to Wookey Farm in Somerset – their first camping trip. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t keen to take along two-month-old Ophelia so we stayed behind, an hour away in Bristol. We did join them a couple of months later, camping near Penzance, mind.

Anyway, I was so envious looking at photographs of the amazing time they had, that we decided we’d go the next Spring. So, this weekend we did just that. Talitha suggested we invite friends to come along. Camping with another family was such fun.

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Wookey Farm is a small family-run dairy goat farm with an eco campsite.

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I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled to learn that we’d be using compost loos for the weekend. I wasn’t a fan of them last time we went camping – it involved walking through the woods in the dark and a spider in the loo (I know! I know! I’m a grown woman…).

That could be why Laurence only told me when we practically on our way! These were decent, though. OK for a weekend. I’ll be eating all these words someday if we ever end up living somewhere with a compost loo, which is not totally unimaginable.

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Of course, the children loved seeing the animals. And, being Spring, there were lots of babies to be seen. We got to see kids and lambs fed a couple of times as well as a milking.

Talitha even got to feed Tiny Tim, the runt of his litter. She and her friend spent the rest of the day pretending to be Tiny Tim and feeding each other. Well, they tried to get Ophelia to be Tiny Tim at first but I think she lost interest in her water bottle too quickly for their liking.

It was so different camping with Ophelia this time around. I don’t think she was mobile when we camped at Cirencester in the Autumn. She absolutely would not be held the whole time, insisting on getting down to explore. She’s not quite walking yet, so it meant she just scrabbled around getting gloriously muddy!

She is into everything at the moment, so there was quite few unpackings and we had to keep a close watch on knives and the campfire. One thing hasn’t changed. Talitha sleeps like a log in a tent. Ophelia wakes up again and again and again. At one point, Talitha muttered in her sleep: “Ophelia!” She may have been getting tired of her little sister’s midnight squeals.

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There’s a bit of space to walk around Wookey Farm, complete with a stream and a swing. Laurence organised a treasure hunt for the children. The loos had information on the local pub, sights and walks but, actually, there seemed enough to do just hanging around the campsite.

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The farm has an “honesty shop” which sells its own produce so we enjoyed eating pork and goat meat, goat’s brie and soft cheese while there. I bought a few bits to bring home too. It was actually pretty lucky that there was a shop onsite because we needed to throw together an emergency picnic for lunch, since we’d planned to leave after breakfast on Sunday.

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I did a really silly thing and charged my phone in the car a few times without turning it on. Long story short, I ran down the battery and that triggered some problem with the immobiliser. Even though we got the battery charged, the car wouldn’t start and we wound up getting towed back to Bristol. So, um, yeah, next time I’ll just embrace nature.

Luckily, we were in the perfect place to be stranded for a couple of hours. We got a brew on, made goat’s cheese sandwiches and watched our daughters play together in the open field. I think Talitha thought getting towed by the recovery truck made for a cracking adventure.

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So, that’s the first camping trip of the year done. I naively underestimated the changeability of British weather. It was practically summer all of last week but it got so cold over the weekend that we were back in winter coats and the water in Ophelia’s sippy cup froze overnight! Never mind, it didn’t spoil our time but we might just wait until it’s warmed up a bit more before camping again.


Park Resorts, Carmarthen Bay

A couple of weekends ago, we were invited to review a Park Resorts holiday site. We chose Carmarthen Bay in Wales because it’s only a two-hour drive from where we live in Bristol.

We drove there on the Friday night with a quick stop at the big Morrisons in Llanelli because, despite Park Resorts reminding us a million times that we needed to bring towels, we still somehow forgot.

When we got there, we were truly impressed with the caravan. It was massive; certainly big enough for six people as it claimed. My brother and my sister-in-law joined us for the weekend away, so we were four adults, a three-year-old and a baby.

We could have pulled the sofa bed out in the living room space but we decided to keep the kids in with us in the master bedroom – Talitha slept on a long cushion on the floor – and the other couple took the second bedroom.

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Taking more of a look around during our lazy morning the next day, we were pleased with how clean the caravan was. All the basics were covered. I was pleased to have remembered to bring our cafetiere, though I meant to bring a sharp knife for chopping vegetables and forgot. Anyway, nothing like curling up with a coffee and the paper by a window on an Autumn’s day.

There was central heating and a fire so the caravan was very warm despite it being blustery outside. Talitha just found it so exciting staying in a caravan!

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After breakfast, we all went for a dip in the swimming pool, something Talitha was especially looking forward to. The pool was cold and the changing rooms were in need of refurbishment, to be honest.

Talitha was still keen and spent quite a bit of time “swimming” but we opted not to take Ophelia in. Comically, the hot tub was cold too. At least we’d ticked “swimming” off the weekend’s plans so the three-year-old was happy enough.

We’d booked with Laurence going surfing in mind but it was so windy he decided against it. Another time. Instead, we layered up and went for a wander around Carmarthen. It’s said to be the oldest town in Wales. Much of its history has been maintained as we discovered, having an enjoyable poke around.

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We had lunch at Diablo’s gastro pub in Carmarthen (the banoffee pudding was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in a long time) and picked up some bits from an amazing delicatessen in town for lunch the next day.

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On the way back, we stopped to see Kidwelly Castle. It’s a wonderfully preserved Norman castle and a heart-stopping sight to behold. I only wish we hadn’t arrived when it was closing as I would have loved to walk around and properly explore. We’ll have to go back.

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That whole area is rather exciting. We’d parked outside the old slaughterhouse and walked by stocks just outside someone’s house!

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We got back to the site in time for the kids’ evening entertainment, Sparky’s Fun Time, so we thought we’d check it out. While we waited for it to start, we took a moment in the restaurant to watch the sun setting on the coast.

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I got a bit concerned about whether the show would be appropriate for our kids when I saw all the overtly gruesome Halloween decor. I mean, there was blood splattered over walls and skeletons with flashing eyes.

Yet my three-year-old, who gets nervous watching Cinderella, was unfazed. I guess she’s not at the stage where she registers stuff like that. They played a few harmless games and she won a sticker.

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It was all a little surreal, as you can imagine, complete with a giant blue mouse called Narky. The girls both seemed to have great fun despite the adults all finding it fairly insane.

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For us, the highlight of the evening was playing Bingo while the kids went to the back of the room to do some colouring. My brother and my sister-in-law bought tickets to try it out but, hilariously, we all got into it. It was such a thrill!

Having not won (surprise, surprise), we went back to the caravan to cook a stir fry and get our girls to bed.

It was little annoying that the staff, though friendly, didn’t seem to be as informed as they could have been. For instance, the brochure said to ask for the password for park-wide WiFi but no one seemed to know anything about this and a hub wasn’t even coming up on our phones back at the caravan.

Not that this was really a problem while on our holiday. We just spent the evening chatting, watching a bit of television and playing a rather intense game of Monopoly.

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The next morning, we opted for a visit to the “adventure playground” (it really is just a small park), crazy golf and a walk along the beach. I must admit, Talitha and I weren’t impressed with the park. It needs updating and some bits of it are actually broken. There were some older children there having a jolly time, though, so to each their own.

The beach was a lovely little walk. The site actually opens on to it and a few dog walkers were having a stroll when we went. Talitha busied herself collecting shells.

I didn’t get to go play crazy golf as Ophelia seemed a bit unhappy with how windy it was outside but the others tell me it was a good bit of fun. Talitha still hasn’t got what she needs to do with a club though.

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We were meant to stay until Monday but checked out a night early because three of our party had work on, which was a pity. It’s a lovely area and, though we drove around a bit, I’d have like to explore more. I especially wish we’d got to go inside that castle. If we’re ever in the area again, that’s got to be done.

We finished up our delicatessen lunch back at the caravan and checked out.

Taking the big picture of the place, I think the gold plus caravan we stayed in at Park Resorts, Carmarthen Bay, was everything we could have asked for and it made a great base for the weekend. At £395 sleeping six for three nights over a weekend, it’s a decent price. However, the public facilities are pretty much all run down and in need of refurbishment. The area, though, is well worth looking around and a fine choice for a weekend away.

Park Resorts gave us this holiday in exchange for an honest review.


Hauser & Wirth Somerset

A few weeks ago, Laurence’s parents treated the family to lunch at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, in Bruton, to celebrate a birthday. It’s a modern art gallery and restaurant with a truly exciting garden. I’d love to visit again for the garden alone. I don’t feel like I fully took it in and so much thought has gone into what to plant where.

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Laurence and his brothers went to school in Bruton and it amuses the family no end that what they’ve known as a somewhat sleepy little Somerset town is becoming a hotspot for art and culture, and really quite fashionable.

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We started off with the Roth Bar & Grill. The food was all beautifully presented and so tasty. It seemed a shame to choose a burger and chips when so much else was on offer but it’s what I fancied and I didn’t get a touch of food envy, for once. We smiled to see Charles Dowding’s salad leaves on the menu as Laurence recently did an organic gardening class with him.

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After lunch, we took a look around the art gallery. It struck me that the installations were just the type to capture a three-year-old’s imagination. They were big, dramatic and open-ended. Talitha especially loved a room full of big, colourful pom poms. She and her grandmum spent a long time there and she’s been talking about it ever since.

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We also walked around the garden for quite some time. It was in that transitional bit when the seasons had not quite yet changed. I thought I’d mention the dress that I’m wearing as it is the biggest bargain I’ve found when it comes to maternity/nursing clothes.

It’s the Money Penny breastfeeding dress from Mama Feels Good which comes in purple and black. I love the fit (it kind of drapes), the material is comfy, access to nurse your baby is easy and it can be dressed up or down. And get this, I got it for £9.99 though it’s currently selling for a few quid more.

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Also, a few people have asked about the ring sling. It’s a size 2 Girasol wrap I got converted to a ring sling by Geeky Sweetheart. Definitely one of my favourite slings. I love ring slings made from wrap material. They just have a longer life to them.


Autumn Camping in Cirencester

OK, so it’s not quite the depths of Autumn yet but we are a week in. The weather is taking a distinct turn and we thought we better sneak a family camping trip in before it gets really cold.

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We’d chatted with a friend about our families camping together in the summer but the holidays being what they are (too busy, as usual), it didn’t happen. I’m so glad we decided to go this past weekend instead of ditching the plan altogether.

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Laurence found this sweet camping spot, the organic Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester (I’m pretty sure I’m not pronoucing that properly…even in my head) about an hour from Bristol for our one-night stay. We almost had the place to ourselves!

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The land is not ours, it belongs to the future and we should leave it in good heart.

The kids loved being surrounded by sheep and cows. The adults admired the flowers. We all loved a look around The Organic Farm Shop onsite. I may have been unable to resist buying something pretty for our dining table. I’m sure it’ll feature in a post at some point.

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Laurence had this idea that he and the kids were going to make bread on a stick (we did eventually show our friend’s four-year-old where to hold it so it would actually cook, promise). The kids loved it but Laurence got really stressed getting dough all over his hands – ha! Then Talitha was the only one who actually liked eating it, ah well.

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It was amazing to see the children make their own fun. We didn’t take much to entertain them. They just loved romping in each others tents, exploring the woods, collecting pine cones and climbing trees.

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I enjoyed waking up to this sky.

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And this baby.

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I must admit I’m relieved she’s not crawling yet, though. As it was, I had to keep fishing grass and leaves out of her mouth. My mother tells me I ate a lot of sand as a baby. She’s probably smiling at this.

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It really wasn’t that cold and I don’t think the kids would have much minded even if it were. Even when the adults were all bundled up, they were throwing off their layers. It’s our second camping trip all as a family and our first with friends. I’m looking forward to doing this more.


The Community Farm, Chew Valley

OK, so not really farming, but Talitha and I had great fun a few weeks ago going along to an early years cookery class at The Community Farm in the Chew Valley between Bristol and Bath.

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The fact that we’d chosen possibly the wettest day of the year to go didn’t wreck our time at all. Rather, it reminded me of how important it is that we continue to get outdoors in all sorts of weather.

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We went along with Jess and Cherry from Along Came Cherry – a treat in itself. I love that learning to drive has given us the freedom to go to places like this and to see friends who live a fair distance away.

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The kids walked around, learning about the plants, spotting slugs who were loving the rain and picking some bits for the stir fry and snacks they were going to make later.

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The cookery bit happened undercover in a gorgeous yurt dedicated to educational purposes. They munched on a few bits before the cooking began. The experience encouraged Talitha to try cucumber for the first time and admit that she likes it!

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The kids all got to be as hands-on with the cooking as they wanted, with the help of surprisingly effective plastic knives.

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This didn’t mean my child would eat the stir fry, mind, but she tried it and I think it’s a definite step in the right direction getting her outdoors and letting her get involved in a meal from start to finish.

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This is what I’ve been doing with our vegetable garden too but I’m sure the atmosphere of being on a big, beautiful farm like this one and hanging out with other kids is a tad more effective. It solidified to me not just that she needs to be outdoors but that she needs to connect with growing things.

Joining in with Coombe Mill’s Country Kids