Food literacy is key for future

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Reports such as “Eight out of 10 children don’t know milk comes from cows” or “Six out of 10 children think bananas grow in Britain” are familiar enough, emphasising the ever-increasing disconnection between farm and consumer.

Less publicised are the efforts, local and national, that are made by farmers and their organisations to try to close that gap.

Two valiant local efforts have been made recently. One, now a regular event, by Glendale show organisers at their Wooler site, the second by the Border Union Agricultural Society at Kelso.

In total, the two hands-on days gave about 3,000 children the chance to see what farmers do and the importance of farming to rural life and food supplies.

At national level, over the next four days, more than 25,000 children are expected at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, in several hundred school parties. The range of activities provided at the show by the Royal Highland Educational Trust is wide, with a main aim to improve “childrens’ food literacy”. That is, to teach them, as entertainingly as possible, about where much of their food comes from and how good it can be.

It is quite possible that such educational activity days for thousands of children might also spark for some the idea of a career in farming.

Over the years I’ve met a number of people who battled their way into farming from non-farming backgrounds after their interest was kindled by a rural holiday or farm visit. They realised quickly that there was more to farm work and prospects than appealing lambs and chicks on clean straw or shavings, but persevered, a number doing the farming equivalent of working their way through army ranks to become farmers in their own right.

Others have reached influential positions in research, science and administration, providing the outside, broader, views that the too-often insular world of farming needs. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough that the most determined and persistent can make their way as new entrants – and it was repeated recently by the head of Askham Bryan agricultural college, Liz Philp.

Her claim that 60,000 new faces would be needed in farming over the next decade might be pitching it strong, but her basic suggestion was correct, as was her warning when speaking at the North Sheep event that practical knowledge and a good education would not be enough. She said: “You also have to raise your horizons and see how the rest of the world is farming because that’s where a lot of good ideas come from.”

She also dealt with something I’ve mentioned several times recently, the important place women have, and should see recognised more, in farming: “Girls coming to our college are good – they have the practical skills, the education and the ability to farm and should get the chance to.

“If the succession to the throne can change, so can the succession to the family farm.”

Brave words, and there are just enough female farmers to prove Ms Philp is correct. But if we’re talking about the likelihood of the farming establishment changing its mind before royalty accepts change it might not only be a close-run thing, eternity might come into the reckoning.