Farming's 'complicated' relations with media needs a shake-up
PUBLISHED: 11:19 09 November 2019
Sunny Suffolk Ltd
Growing up I dipped into Young Farmers, but like many my age, I was encouraged to pursue a career outside of the family farm business.
Therefore, I didn't go to an agricultural college or university but the farm was always in the background as a business to discuss and place to enjoy. I have been fortunate enough to travel and live in countries including Trinidad, Zanzibar, Australia and the Philippines, where I have enjoyed experiencing different food, landscapes and visiting farms whenever possible.
After my first degree in psychology, I then completed an MSc in behaviour change and health psychology from University College London (UCL) in 2016. I was keen and interested to understand how our dietary choices can positively impact our health and wellbeing. I perceive food as a bridge between agriculture and people's health and happiness.
The majority of my career has been in a non-agricultural environment, from roles at tech start-ups, in schools and in both public and private healthcare. It's during this time that I overhear conversations like, 'does almond milk come from cows that only eat almonds?'. I'm left wincing at such comments, but it prompts me to acknowledge that we need to communicate and tell our stories more effectively with people outside the industry.
If we were to put a label on the relationship status between farmers and the media, I imagine the best fit would be, 'it's complicated'. The farming community has not traditionally been portrayed in the most flattering light, and this is a stereotype I intend to shake up.
Public Relations (PR) is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support to influence opinion and behaviour. Media is an important tool in PR. Just by way of example, there has been media dialogue about glyphosate and genetically modified food. But, the cynic in me feels that it was the opposition's voice which was louder than ours.
The trick is making our messages simple, relatable, accessible, with a sprinkling of humour. I propose that young people in our incredible industry has all of these components and we should learn how to befriend the mysterious media far better.
In 2017, as a committee member of the Under 30s Farmers Club based in London, I launched a communication initiative called 'Meet the Member' which continues to be published in their journal today. Ultimately my aim is to champion the industry by telling the stories of these ambitious young people and to strengthen public relations with other channels in mainstream media. It would be an achievement to be featured in monthly magazines, such as the popular Waitrose magazine for example.
By attending different events in this space, I have become strongly aware there is a growing desire by many young people not directly from a farming background, who are interested in exploring a range of careers this industry has to offer. It offers a great practical side alongside being entrepreneurial and stunning 'office views'.
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Digital literacy has transformed within a generation and we would be silly to deny it will play an integral role in the future of our industry. We need to use it effectively, efficiently and befriend it to play to our advantage. For example, how we communicate what we do to every possible consumer, who may be truly 'disconnected' to how food ends up on their plates on a daily basis.
The growing trend of provenance and traceability in the supply chain is undeniable. This also extends to food packaging, transport and storage. Generally, we measure what matters to us. When we measure something, we can manage it with care and understanding. Advancements in technology within the industry will allow to capture large amount of data. The key is going to be finding ways to communicate this data in an engaging way with others outside agriculture.
Farming has a very close link with the environment, with many of us acting as custodians of the countryside. People are becoming more environmentally aware, and they may wish to tread lighter on the planet. I also believe they want to see where their food is produced and be out in the countryside, which we can offer! .
Collaboration is key, so I am teaming up with Essex farmer Ben Eagle - who produces the 'Meet the Farmers' podcast - to create an East Anglian group of young farmers involved with educational events on farms. The aim is to create a template for others to host activities and events on their farms, for example a guided farm walk or a cookery session.
Food traceability is a growing trend, joined by farmer's markets and people buying either straight or sourced from a specific farm. I suggest it means more people are curious about where their food comes from. The amount of cookery TV shows and books is immense, so how do industries so close to agriculture, not mention us more?
A friend and I set up 'Growing Cooks' a few years ago, to tell our farming stories to children and adults at city farms and schools in London.
We taught the incredible journey from growing to cooking our food, through a variety of practical sensory activities.
I have now been a steward for the past two years running at the Suffolk Show and have enjoyed the whole experience of celebrating everything related to food, farming and the countryside.
The years ahead will provide opportunities for us to strengthen our public relations and presence in the media. So, as communication is key to all relationships, please let us talk!
Farmers' daughter Georgina Knock left the family farm at Battisford, near Stowmarket, to study and travel. She and a friend set up Growing Cooks, to tell farming stories at city farms and schools in London