At the end of 2021, I was invited to attend a dairy sector meeting to talk about all the opportunities open to farmers to work with, engage with and inspire young people.
Primarily, this was focused on such wonderful outreach initiatives as Farmer Time, Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme (Cevas) training, or working with our Leaf regional education consultants to develop in-school and on-farm sessions.
See also: New recruits wanted for Farmer Time initiative
About the author
Carl Edwards is director for education and public engagement at Leaf Education. Here he sets out why engaging with the public is a positive and necessary step.
As I surveyed my audience, I saw genuine interest and support, but also looks of concern. I realised there had been a shift.
This is a time when, more than ever, schools, teachers, young people and the public are keen to better understand where their food is coming from, to meet the professionals who produce it, to understand career routes open to them in our sector and, crucially, to experience the natural environment of which our farmers are guardians.
But, at the same time, we have seen an increase in negativity in the media. This, I fear, has pervaded our industry’s desire to reach out and engage. In a very real sense, confidence and willingness to reach out is being eroded.
Only a week after my talk, I looked on social media and was disappointed to read of another farmer who felt “shamed” by the local school, simply because of the fact he was a farmer.
Yet I believe we should not be listening to the negative press pieces that pitch future consumers (children) against the agricultural sector.
After a successful year, working with almost 75,000 young people, we have been astonished at how much they want to know more about our sector, how it relates to the issues they care about like climate change, sustainability and healthy eating, and how eager they are to explore routes to land-based careers.
Their minds are open, they want to learn, experience and question. In our work with thousands of students and teachers across England and Wales, not one has expressed any kind of negativity.
The overwhelming response we receive is that they greatly value the opportunities we offer to get closer to farming, food production and the natural environment.
Of course, we all know that negativity sells, and there will always be the odd isolated opinion or experience, but the reality is far more positive.
Our young people are hungry for knowledge and, as a sector, we have an incredible story to tell that chimes so well with current climate and health issues.
As I look ahead, I feel optimistic about what we can achieve as an industry in terms of delivering wider public engagement.
The appetite among young people to learn about and experience our world-leading, high-tech, multibillion-pound industry is stronger than ever.
Let us be loud and proud, and really showcase all that we offer – for the climate, for nature, for the economy, and for future generations.
Returning to the dairy sector meeting, it actually ended positively, with a queue of farmers wanting to sign up to Farmer Time, offering to host on-farm visits, benefit from our training, or simply to talk about their experiences.
So don’t listen to the negative press. Get out there and experience the positivity that engaging with young people and society can have.