Food for thought: building a connection with land for future generations
By Sarah Nadin, Digital Manager
How important is it for children to build a connection with food, farming, and the countryside? What benefits does building a connection bring? I work for The Country Trust, a charity that believes every child should be able to discover first-hand where their food comes from and understand the connections that exist between the food they eat, their own health and that of the planet. Since the charity was founded 45 years ago, this is what The Country Trust has focused on making a reality. I’d argue that with systemic changes across all areas of society taking place, now more than ever before, connections between food, farming and the land need to be made.
Why do we need to build these connections? With the UK becoming an increasingly urbanized population, one could argue that children no longer need to understand where their food comes from - the efficiency of our international food supply chain has taken care of it. With over 80% of the UK now living in cities or towns, children are largely out of the picture – away from the fields and the farms that we rely on for food. But this erosion of the connection between what we eat and where it comes from is taking its toll. Things needs to change.
As the Digital Manager for The Country Trust, responsible for our online comms, I regularly witness the incredible impact that a day spent on a working farm has on children. Images and stories of children, wide eyed, taking information in, building connections between the food in the fields, and that which they eat.
A day spent feeding lambs, harvesting beans and exploring this brand new world with all the senses (we have lots of comments about smells!) stay with the children – particularly those who have never been to a farm before - for a long time. Forever, perhaps. Of course, some children will know that carrots don’t grow on trees and that a goat is a goat, not a sheep. But the reality is that many don’t.
We don’t make assumptions either, we hear evidence to support this throughout all our programmes.
“The children took part in an activity which required them to identify which part of the plant a specific vegetable or fruit they were given originated, one child asked with surprise ‘so plants make seeds?’” – Coordinator Feedback
Building connections, providing experiences
A study from Natural England showed that only 9% of children visit farmland or open countryside in an average month in the UK. The Country Trust is working to change this. Last year we connected over 20,000 children from deprived background backgrounds with 670 working farms across England and Wales, as part of our ongoing mission to rebuild our children’s lost connection with the land that sustains us.
As many studies now show, the impact of obesity, poor diet, physical and mental health issues and lack of access to outdoor spaces are all interconnected – and disproportionately affect disadvantaged children. Our farm visits benefit individual and collective health. They build sustainability into our health and employment systems. And they can help tackle inequality through quality learning opportunities and experiences that build a child’s sense of self and empowers them.
The Government supports farm-school connections, but too many children are still missing out. Since 2015 the UK Government’s Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme has provided financial incentives for farmers to look after and improve the environment. One objective of the CS scheme is to provide school children with access to the UK’s farming communities. This is currently supported through Educational Access Payments (ED1) and it plays a hugely important role in connecting children and farms. However, demand for educational visits from schools across the country currently outstrips the number of educational access visits The Country Trust - working with its farming partners - can provide.
School visits are a vital and unique opportunity for urban and rural communities to come together. Although each depends on the other, they would otherwise never meet. The Country Trust believes that by allowing for an extension of ED1 into the forthcoming Sustainable Farming Incentive, Defra would not only help children understand the role that farming plays in producing food, but also tackles some of the biggest issues that the UK faces over the coming decades. This includes climate change, food security, a looming agri-food employment crisis as well as rising levels of diet-related and mental health problems.
Thinking outside the box
However, with many children unable to access farms and build these connections, we’ve had to get creative. The Country Trust’s Farm in a Box initiative takes the farm into the classroom.
Working at The Country Trust is incredibly rewarding. Seeing that lightbulb moment, as children dig up their first potato or pick their first tomato is something you never tire of. And next time that child has a school dinner of chips and ketchup, they will know the field to fork story that lies behind this food and connects them with farming. A story which starts with a potato grown deep in the soil, a tomato sweetened by the sun and picked by a farmer - one just like farmer they met and who they spoke to. The farmer and who lives down the road from their school, their city, the place they call home.
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Find out more about the Trust at www.countrytrust.org.uk
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