A regular topic of conversation at scythe meetings is how to engage more of the younger generation in scything, and indeed in practical rural activities generally.
It is not difficult to see why the demographic for scything is biased to more mature users. It’s a fact, for example, that active participation in voluntary conservation and wildlife trusts tends to be from more mature individuals who have spare time, with settled careers and grown up children. Typically, I find that these are the people that sign up for scythe courses.
Young people on the other hand have very busy lives with a lot of demands and pressures placed on them, not least from technology, phones and social media. As the movement sparked by Greta Thunberg showed, young people do have a strong interest in the environment and in their future. The challenge is to bring this latent spark in younger people to get them practically involved in scything.
So how do we promote scything to younger generations? I don’t think there are any quick answers to this question, but here are some of my thoughts on the topic.
Start young. Children are never to young to be introduced to the ideas of conservation, sustainable farming, tools – and yes scythes! Farm sets, books and grandparents, I would say are key tools at our disposal.
My own love of wild flowers, and cowslips in particular, was instilled in me at the age of 4 or 5 by my granny. At the summer scythe school I attended in Estonia, a significant proportion of the participants were young adults, many young women who wanted to acquire the hay making skills they say their grandmothers had (as the men were often at sea fishing or in the pub when the hay needed mowing!).
Let children do stuff, hands on with “danger” – learn to respect, handle and manage hazards (not just avoid risk).
This is recognised as a massive issue for modern children who are not allowed out the house unsupervised to play and explore. Plus, an increasing trend in our disposable society is for young households to possess no tools for making or fixing things. A few more enlightened groups and schools have invited instructors like Mary Ellis, Jez Hastings and myself to give youngsters taster sessions handling and using scythes. A lesson in practical skills, but also building respect and confidence in using sharp potentially hazardous tools. The example picture below was a have a go session at my local cub scout group whose mower had broken down and they asked for my scythe help ahead of an overnight camp.
Look for opportunities to engage young adults in scything.
I have found that have-a-go sessions for groups like young farmers (as below), or at festivals and other events attended by young families, offer potential to hook in interest. The scythe has the power to speak for itself: as Mary Ellis said in a BBC radio 4 interview “ most people, having their first go with a scythe, cannot avoid developing an involuntary smile “ …and will hopefully want to come back for more!
As we know scything is not about re-enactment of quaint rural practices, it is about using a modern tool that is as efficient and relevant as it ever was – it is a part of the future. As the late Peter Vido commented: “.. a good scythe, wielded by an accomplished mower with deep intent, can do more than just sever the stems of plants”