Potato-harvesting day

© Torben Merriott
© Torben Merriott
© Torben Merriott
© Torben Merriott

Barnes Farm, Stradbroke July 6 2010


Seventy-five Primary pupils (ranging in age from Year 2 to Year 5, and from three local Primary schools) attended the first of two days of potato-harvesting at the farm.  

Here is what some of them had to say and write about the day.


At today’s event I

had a great day

had loads of fun

had fun

had a fun day and was happy

liked the horses.  I liked playing in the long grass.  I liked picking up the potatoes.

had lots of fun

liked harvesting the potatoes

enjoyed potato-collecting very much

liked collecting potato-leaves

had a good day

liked picking the potatoes.  It was very exciting.  I also liked the horses.

liked the potatoes

have enjoyed today

liked the school trip and looking at the horses and doing the potatoes

liked picking up the leaves and stalks


At today’s event I was surprised by

how many potatoes there were

how many potatoes I can pick

how many potatoes I harvested

At today’s event I didn’t

get as muddy as I thought I would

get bored, or get stung by a nettle

pick up any potatoes

get bored


At today’s event I felt

this was my dream come true

really happy and joyful

happy having fun potato harvesting and running around and it was a really good fun day

very joyful

very happy

I liked seeing the horses: I felt nice inside

At today’s event I learned

that it’s very fun at harvesting but tiring

how people harvested in the old days

how they harvest

to farm and harvest potatoes

Thanks to those people who signed their feedback, and to those who just wanted to record their presence at this event by writing their name down:  Reece, Jack, Haydon, Sky, Charlotte, Chloe, Sam, Kai, Billy, Josh, Caleb, Mason and Marty.


A member of Peasenhall staff wrote:

We loved the horses and the harvesting, and enjoyed the presentation.  The children loved all the space to run around in and the adults really appreciated the coffee.

Thank you so much.


Work, play and potatoes.

The paediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott writes in his ground-breaking work Playing and Reality that:

t]he place where cultural experience is located is in the potential space between the individual and the environment…  The same can be said of playing. Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested in play… The potential space… between individual and society or the world depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked on as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living.

(Winnicott, D. 1971, p. 100, p. 103)


At today’s event numbers of pupils showed themselves to be very happily at home in the space Winnicott identifies, the space between individual and society or the world in which “the individual experiences creative living”.  A space too in which the pupils can be trusted, and in which they learn trust.  

One reason for this seems to me to be the generous provision afforded by the actual space we found ourselves in.  The field at Barnes Farm has changed since we were last here to plough and then to plant the potatoes.  A large section of the field was now given over to tall wild grasses around which and within which numbers of pupils explored on their own or in groups, unsupervised and undirected.  Or rather, directed by their own inner impulse to make the space mean something: a place to hide or stalk, or to find insects or plants, or to be on their own.  And the potato-crop itself had grown.  Above the levelled furrows were two-foot high leafy stalks sporting white flowers.  Some of the potato-varieties had grown lower and flowerless plants; others showed leaves of a lighter green.  

The labels we had posted back in the Spring still named each variety: Pentland Javelin, Jersey Royal, Kestrel, King Edwards, Maris Piper, Majestic.  Once the heavy horses had done the work of uprooting a long furrow by towing a device which looked like half a shuttlecock, a curved blade to turn the earth and a set of splayed flattened tines to catch the potato-plants without cutting or spiking them, the pupils raced in small teams down the row to find and pick out the crop.  This activity was both work and play.  It was a form of work, externally-imposed labour, to retrieve the grown potatoes so that they could be used.  Pupils exerted themselves to fill buckets with the harvest and carry the left-over stalks to the side of the field.  But it was also play (itself defined somewhere as children’s work): a new experience opted into which engaged the pupils bodily as well as mentally, and over which they could exercise control, for example by deciding which technique for lugging the laden bucket worked best or when it was appropriate to collect the fallen stalks and stack them.  The activity brought them up close to the earth with its dust and flints and smells, its textures and occasional tricks (I saw at least one pupil trip and fall in the furrows, and laugh at the mis-step), and so impressed on them the physical interchange between their expenditure of energy and the accomplishment of the harvest.  The comment it’s very fun but tiring might be read as an opening phenomenological account of the day.

Outside the activity of harvesting, numbers of pupils occupied themselves in various kinds of further play.  Some made use of the materials provided to draw or paint.  Some read.  Some wrote or drew in their own journals.  Some played Top Trumps or cards.  Some played ball-games.  Some sat and talked, or shared silence, which is to say followed their own thoughts companionably.  Later in the afternoon two schools brought out their large parti-coloured parachutes, formed circles and played parachute-games.  At lunch three musicians arrived and set about their particular specialised form of play with melodeons and a harmonica, and the human voice.  We heard, among other songs and tunes, ‘Speed the Plough’ and ‘We’re all jolly fellows that follow the plough’.  The band had brought a wooden square on which they, and later some pupils, did impromptu tap-dancing.  A large group of boys spontaneously began a kind of country-dance, identifiable because of the way they folded arms behind their backs and kicked their legs out in time.  This developed into a kind of line-dancing, with some girls joining in.  Later the band produced two tap-dancing puppets, painted and articulated wooden sailors who jiggled noisily on wooden slats in time to the music.  A group of girls held a singing-circle, joining actions to the words:  “Coconut Mary drop them on your head!  If you do you’ll end up dead!”  On the final word down they duly fell.  

The horse-handlers talked to the pupils about their charges: a black Shire who pulls the blue cart which collects the sacks of potatoes the bucket-loads have filled, and a chestnut Suffolk Punch and a dappled grey Persian, the team which will walk the furrows.  The Suffolk was ‘best in show’ last week: this week he’s in trace-chains working our field. For at least one student proximity to the horses has a physical effect: I liked seeing the horses: I felt nice inside.  Conversations begin elsewhere about what it is like to live in a big city as opposed to in the country.  The teacher suggests looking via Google Earth at the number of parks in London.  One pupil comments, not unhappily, about how dirty the harvesting is and how tiring.  He’s hungry too.  Another pupil talks about his father’s tractor and its six gears.  Several pupils are pleasantly surprised at the contents of their packed lunches.  

When the harvesting is done the sacked potatoes are shared out between schools.  Pupils delve into the sacks, bring out clutches of spuds, some small as marbles, others full-size.  They feel clammy, cool.  A small number show little ragged purple rings on their pale flesh, like the markings on jellyfish.  It is clear from the written and verbal feedback I receive that a lot of pupils have enjoyed the activity of harvesting, the chance to see and be close to horses, the opportunity to listen to the music, and the scope to be in a secure large outdoor and novel space.  The affective quality of the experience, and the way these hours have engaged pupils physically and intellectually, will add to the day’s being memorable.  It has offered rich ways for each pupil to be, to act, to explore and to think: the four inter-related domains which, it has been argued, represent the learning that matters to children and “to which they are spontaneously committed from birth… the learning that is driven by their urgent desire to make sense of the world.” (Rich, Drummond, Myer, 2008, p. 2).  The day offered the opportunity for pupils to make important choices and increase their capacity to choose (for example to choose to help with an aspect of the harvest, to choose to represent an aspect of the experience of the day, even to choose whether or not to throw a clod of earth).  It allowed them scope to try something new, and to make new meanings about harvest and history (I learned how people harvested in the old days) and about themselves (I was surprised at how many potatoes I can pick), to not get bored and to be happy, or joyful or to feel nice inside.  

If the potato-project is repeated it will incorporate new ideas to make the day even more educationally-successful.  We would welcome further feedback from education-workers and pupils at the schools involved.



Winnicott, D. (1971)  Playing and Reality.  London: Tavistock Publications.  

Rich, D.; Drummond, M. J.; Myer, C.  (2004)  Learning: What Matters To Children.  Clopton, Suffolk: Rich Learning Opportunities.