I had my first experience of a 4D cinema the other day.  This revolutionary cinematic experience, designed to engage and stimulate all five senses included gusts of air, moving seats, special effects of fog, wind, bubbles and even scents. It was an exhilarating and memorable experience and looking at the reactions from the children in the audience, they certainly enjoyed it.   

A vision of world that is farming, eating and living sustainably

It made me reflect on my own work with LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and our vision of a world that is farming, eating and living sustainably. With 81% of the UK population living in urban areas, our connection with the natural world, farming and the value of our food is increasingly being lost. How do we deliver more sustainable food and farming? How do we make long lasting and meaningful changes to the way people think about and engage with their food? How do we embed health as a value when we make food choices? These are hugely challenging questions and will require a truly collaborative approach involving retailers, governments, scientists, farmers, local communities, schools and businesses. But any effective partnership approach must be underpinned with real life experiences.

Engaging all five senses out on farm

Farms are really inspiring places which allow children to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence outside the classroom. Getting children outdoors and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of a real working farm plays a hugely important role in reconnecting the next generation with where their food comes from and how it is produced. Experiences that engage all the senses hold such power. Seeing wheat blowing in the wind, hearing the sound of cows mooing, tasting a freshly pulled carrot and touching the roughness of a pigs back are experiences that can change lives and attitudes forever. 

Only by enabling children (and indeed adults) to experience food production close up will we start to engender a lifelong love and trust for food as well as an understanding of what it means to eat healthily. 

Delivering more sustainable food and farming

LEAF has been at the forefront of delivering more sustainable food and farming for the last twenty five years and I have been humbled and privileged to see at first hand the effect a farm visit can have on a child. With many primary school leavers now considered as obese, using farms to educate children about healthy eating should be a top priority. School visits to farms have traditionally played a central role in supporting the curriculum – from GCSE rural science studies to lessons on running a business. But the importance of farms in teaching students how to eat and cook healthily should not be underestimated.

Discovering the world of farming

Understanding how our food arrives on our plates – from soil to market – is one of the key objectives of Open Farm Sunday – an industry initiative run by LEAF.  It is a day held annually in June where hundreds of farms across the country open their gates and welcome visitors onto their farms to discover more about the world of farming. Since the first Open Farm Sunday in 2006, over 1,400 farmers have welcomed over 1.6 million visitors. More recently, we have extended the reach of Open Farm Sunday and now run Open Farm School Days throughout June which sees farmers all over the UK host educational visits for children.

This years Open Farm Sunday was hosted on 5th of June, and we exceeded over a quarter of a million visitors. Nearly 400 farms welcomed visitors of all ages, who also engaged heavily with the campaign via social media, both in the run up to the day and throughout the weekend. The continued growth of this annual campaign, which celebrates all that is great about British farming, is due to the dedication of the farmers that open, everyone that helps at events, Open Farm Sunday’s sponsors, and the widespread support of the food and farming industry. Next year’s Open Farm Sunday 2017 will take place on 11th June 2017, so put it in your diaries!

Building connections with the natural world

It we are really serious about tackling the obesity issue then it is absolutely critical, as a society, that we take collective responsibility for teaching our children about where their food comes from. The farming industry has a huge role to play here. We have to look very hard at developing innovative ways to really engage children in a discussion about sustainable farming, biodiversity and wider green issues. We have to make them part of this whole process and feel really connected. This is unlikely to happen in a formal classroom setting.  They need to feel mud beneath their feet, the sensation of soil in their hands, the smell of cow dung and the sound of barley ‘singing’ in the wind. Their food and where it comes from and what they eat then starts to mean something. It all starts to matter. Really matter. 

About Caroline Drummond MBE

Caroline Drummond MBE is Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), the leading organisation delivering more sustainable food and farming. She has worked at LEAF since it began in 1991. Her work focuses on encouraging more sustainable farming practices and building a better public understanding of farming and the environment. She is actively involved in many industry partnerships and initiatives. In 2009, Caroline was awarded the MBE for services to the agricultural industry and has recently completed a Nuffield scholarship.