Does it matter to you where your food comes from? Find out why it should!
As we all know, a lot of the food in our supermarkets doesn’t come from British farms. Much of it travels by air or sea to arrive chilled and perfectly packaged on a shelf and high street near you.
Of course, it is only by supporting local British farmers that we can ensure their future survival.
The trouble is, if you don’t live in the countryside, it’s easy to feel completely disconnected from local farmers. Most of us never get a chance to get a close-up look at farm animals and see why we should buy British produce - and if we do, where our food really comes from.
That’s why I think LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday initiative – which takes place this year on 12 June - is so important.
Cooking is key
It’s a simple idea: every year, on Open Farm Sunday, farmers across the UK open up their farms to the public. (You can find an open farm near you using this website.)
But this isn’t simply about showing off the wonderful produce the farms have on offer. Nor is it merely about farming. The real insights on offer are all about food.
For example, Open Farmer Debbie Evans, who has a 45 acre Boscawen Farm in Cornwall, believes one of the most important things you’ll learn by visiting your local farm is why some farms’ produce tastes better than others. “It’s what the animals eat and the grass management that makes meat taste good,” she says.
This is a fantastic opportunity to find out more about specific types of food from the farmers who cultivate it. For example, some farms – like Foxbury Farm in Brize Norton - puts on cookery demonstrations alongside more standard open-farm experiences like farm trailer rides and visits to the milking parlour. “Last year we put on a simple demonstrating showing people how to fillet salmon,” says spokesperson Rebecca Dawes. “That gave us the most response. People came back to the farm shop and asked for whole salmon. They didn’t want it filleted anymore.”
In other words, it will make you see your food in a new light. “We’ve lost our way by not educating children about food,” argues Open Farmer Neil Baker of 1,500 acre Rushywood Dairy Farm in Somerset. If young people understood the benefits of drinking milk compared to, say, coca cola, they would drink more and better support a dairy industry that has rapidly been going out of business, he thinks.
Local food community
Personally, one of the things I like best about Open Farm Sunday is the way it gives you a sense of your local food community, something I think many of us have lost sight of.
After all, a lot of the farms taking part are tucked away down a farm track and the mechanisation of farming means they often have a diminished workforce – nowadays, there is a much higher incidence of farmers working alone than they used to be.
I like the way Open Farm Sunday enables me to reconnect with local farmers and the food grown in my local area.
Foxbury Farm, for example, shows local people the entire local food chain, explain why the welfare of the animals is important to them, and how they care for the environment. There is always an open-floor session when people can ask “as many silly questions as they like”, Rebecca says. She is often surprised when children ask questions along the lines of ‘why is there an egg in with that chicken?’ and estimates that around 20% of the children that visit have never set foot on a farm before. As much as possible, she says, they are fighting to promote local food over that sold in supermarkets.
But as the supermarkets up their game, so must a farm shop like Foxbury. Open Farm Sunday is part of the fight back. So we should all support it!
If you do decide to go along to an Open Farm, one of the things that will strike you about many of the farms taking part is just how creative the farmers are: whether in terms of the food they have diversified into or the ways they are learning to communicate with you, the consumer. Each farm taking part is different, but all are real and, what is more, still going strong.
Now all that is left for us to do is to take what we learn on the farm and get creative in the kitchen.
Open Farm Sunday takes place this year on 12 June. To find out which farms in your area are taking part visit www.openfarmsunday.org. For up-to-date information on Twitter go to www.twitter.com/openfarmsunday.
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