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British People Know Terrifyingly Little About Where Food Comes From

According to a new survey, 22 percent of British people have never visited a farm, and one in seven get their knowledge of farming from Emmerdale. Basically, we know fuck all about how our food is produced.

by Michael Segalov
Jun 3 2015, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Lindsay Wilson

According to the World Health Organisation, 82 percent of the UK's population live in urban areas. With our 24-hour supermarkets, microwaves, and restaurants only serving canned food, we're further away from farming methods than ever.

It shouldn't come as much of a shock that according to a survey from Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), an organisation promoting sustainable agriculture, British people seem to know fuck all about where their food comes from.

READ MORE: Dairy Farmers Are Paying the True Price for the UK's Cheap Milk

Released this week, the research polled 1000 UK adults on their perceptions of farmers and farming. The results were less than glowing, with 22 percent of participants having never visited a farm and only 5 percent describing farmers as "tech savvy," despite most modern UK farms using technology like robotic milking machines and even drones. Instead, the most prevalent image of the farmer was the pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing relic from a bygone era.

That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, though, as LEAF also found that one in seven of people surveyed got most of their farming knowledge from Emmerdale, a soap opera set in the Yorkshire Dales.

LEAF also polled 1000 primary school-aged children on their farming knowledge. Branding their findings as "the generation that hasn't heard a cow moo," the survey results were inevitably depressing. One in three children didn't know that pork came from pigs, while one in 20 were convinced pigs produce cheese. A misguided minority of one in 25 thought that pigs were responsible for providing us with potatoes.

Just as alarmingly was the children's grip on fruit cultivation, with five percent of those surveyed believing strawberries grew in the fridge.

While we should probably cut some slack to an age group that still believes in the tooth fairy, the UK's general lack of agriculture awareness is a serious issue. Without grasp of the pressures facing farmers today, what's stopping us from continuing to unwittingly plunge British dairies into meltdown with our taste for cheap milk or forget about the farmers who become suicidally depressed through pesticide use? LEAF hopes the research will re-engage society with such problems, as well as the 464,000 people currently employed on farms.

"There is still a disconnect with farming for today's youngsters, as well as for many parents too," says Annabel Shackleton, who runs LEAF's Open Farm Sunday that sees farmers open their gates to the general public. "We must all work together to ensure that this does not become an increasing trend."

For farmers like Eddie Andrew, who runs Our Cow Molly Dairy Farm in Sheffield, connecting with the public through initiatives like Open Farm Sunday is crucial.

"It is important for us all to learn about how our food is produced and a day spent on the farm brings people closer to nature," he says. "It gives visitors the chance to meet the farmers responsible for producing their food and to understand what caring for the countryside and all its wildlife entails."

READ MORE: British Farmers Are Ditching the Supermarkets

City-dwelling Brits are finding other ways to get closer to farmers too. Farmers markets and farm box delivery schemes allow people to buy produce direct from suppliers, making the whole ploughing fields and harvesting crops thing a little less alien. It's something Shackleton hopes to see more of.

"The number of adults who don't even realise that they are eating British produce when they're tucking into their morning bowl of porridge or their Sunday roast is alarming," says Shackleton. "The agricultural industry is worth billions to the British economy, so it is important that we know what home grown produce to look out for when we go shopping."

The level of misunderstanding may be alarming, but it's nowhere near as scary as eating a potato that came from a pig.