Children’s food knowledge gap must be challenged by farmers

Farmers are being encouraged to do more to address the disconnect between children and the environment, with a fifth of young people having never been involved in growing food.

Children during an Open Farm Sunday visit. The event returns this Sunday.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) says the industry must do all it can to teach youngsters about where their food comes from, to act on sentiments such as the 84 per cent of five to eight-year-olds who said they would love to visit a farm in a survey carried out by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to mark Healthy Eating Week.

The survey also found that around a fifth of all children have not had any experiences of growing food.

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Guy Smith, the NFU’s vice president, said: “Farming is already well-received by the public, and popular with children, you only have to look at times when we open our doors to the public through various events like Open Farm Sunday. But the industry is in a great position to be able to do more to fulfil this need.”

The NFU will reach out to pupils at 4,400 schools across Britain tomorrow to teach them about food when it hosts a live ‘webinar’ - the kind of interaction that was identified as important in the Future of Farming review, commissioned by Defra and published last July to guide policy on improving the industry.

The review recommended that more is needed to be done to engage school age children to take an interest in where their food comes from and, with too few young people stepping into the industry, the report suggests that the way schoolchildren are taught about farming is vital to sustain their interest in it as a possible career.

A local initiative that seeks to introduce children who live in urban areas to the countryside and its importance to food production, is a twinning project co-ordinated by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) unit. Primary schools in the AONB are paired with schools in York and Hull and pupils visit each other to learn about their different areas.

Joanna Richards, communications officer at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The disconnect between Britain’s children and the environment they live in has been well documented. This disconnect is cause for great concern as without this knowledge it is incredibly difficult to make informed choices, whether this be about the state of our environment or the food we eat. We can already see the beginnings of where these ill-informed choices take us, with cases of obesity and stress on the increase.”

Open Farm Sunday, this weekend, provides parents with the opportunity to take children to a farm for a behind the scenes look at food production. Some 29 farms in Yorkshire are opening their gates to the public.

Annabel Shackleton, who manages the event for charity LEAF, said: “Our own research shows that one in three children have never heard a cow moo which is extremely disappointing.

“Engaging with nature is important to children’s education and well-being, which is why LEAF is calling on families to visit a farm for Open Farm Sunday and take advantage of some fresh air as well as finding out more about where our food comes from.”

To locate the nearest farm participating in the open event this Sunday, visit www.farmsunday.org