Urban disconnect is your problem!

Farmers must open their gates and talk honestly about their land, food and farming – the challenges and the successes.

by Sarah Perriam

31 Jan 2020 - Farmers Weekly


I understand farmers’ and growers’ self esteem is at a pretty dire level, driven by a they-hate-us perception.

And I don’t need a dressing down on why farmers and growers might think that.

I lived emotionally through the 2017 election campaign as a rural broadcaster in a liberal Auckland newsroom and flatted with an American vegan. 

My biggest lesson was they don’t know what they don’t know – just like you have no idea about the struggles of living in an apartment building. 

So when I was recently updated on the poor uptake of farm registrations for the forthcoming Open Farms initiative on March 1 because farmers believe 'it’s not my job to fix the rural-urban divide and that they pay levies for that,' I wanted to drop the microphone and walk out of this role representing the farming community to the wider public.

Open Farms is a wonderful concept to encourage all Kiwi families to reconnect with the land and learn how we farm in partnership with nature and is the most encouraging vision we have had in a decade. 

By opening up our gates to city families for one day we can have a ripple effect of new knowledge that will address this disconnect. 

Yet a dozen farms have signed up and many of them are market gardens.

Come on rural New Zealand, let me know how you are not your own worst enemy. 

I can sense the email excuses filling my inbox as I write. 

There are many legitimate reasons farmers might not participate in a concept like this. I respect that. However, the team at Open Farms, backed by the industry, has done a wonderful job of providing all the toolkits, checklists and frequently asked questions covering topics such as health and safety, biosecurity and insurance on its website.  

There is no one-size-fits-all format for Open Farms events and you set your own visitor numbers in your event description and your own rules about the day, like no dogs. 

It is a great opportunity to do a shearing or milking demonstration, show off your riparian planting and dog trialling skills. I cannot imagine that this would not lift your self-esteem. Be proud of what you do every day in isolation with a curious, captivated audience who want to come and tell you how proud they are of you. 

I understand opening up the farm will take a bit of a leap of faith but why don’t you believe it’s important for all Kiwis to talk honestly about our land, food and farming – the successes and the challenges. We’re all connected to the food system and we’ve got to work from a place of shared truth – even if that’s a bit hard or uncomfortable at first.

In one of the great Onfarm Stories, a female farmer nailed it on the head for me when she said,

“We go into town regularly for community events, see the doctor/accountant and the kids schooling so we get the opportunity to understand how urban people live. How easy is it for them to come out to our environment and understand us?”

There is plenty of academic research in the psychology field to prove the best form of retaining information is from experiential learning. Telling them will never beat showing them.  

A British woman I work with at Blinc the other day asked us why there are no places around Christchurch for her to take her children on the weekends to see farm animals and learn about farming like there is in Britain.  

Let me know what I should tell her.

This article was first published in Farmers Weekly.

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