Farming in the Park

One of the more encouraging developments in agriculture over the last 10 years has been the determination by many farmers to improve their PR. Coming out of the dark days of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic, there was a recognition in the industry of the need to be more proactive when it came to improving our image. This resolve expressed itself in many areas. Our County and regional show committees decided to give the farming story a greater platform at their shows than it had had in the past. One of the most pleasing results of this has been the increase in attendance. Alongside this there was the introduction of education initiatives such as the Essex and Suffolk Schools days which gave school children the opportunity to see farming close up. Back on the farm, there was a new found enthusiasm to open up the gates through initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday. That cheery old farmer greeting ‘get orf my land’ was replaced by ‘welcome to my farm I’m proud of what I do’. Elsewhere, new annual fixtures such as Farmhouse Breakfast week and British Food fortnight encouraged consumers to make the link between field and fork. Across rural Britain there has been a flowering of initiatives that seek to show off the best of agriculture to the non-farming public. Without doubt, 10 years on, farming finds itself in a much better place. Across rural Britain consumers and future consumers are better informed about where their food comes from and why they should look out for local produce. Countryside users, both young and old, better understand why the countryside looks the way it does and what the role of the farmer has in managing it.

However, if I had to make one criticism of all this otherwise wholly admirable work it would be that it has been concentrated too close to our front doors. You have to ask the question as to whether the focus of our activity has been too provincial? Have the conurbations where most people live been a bit of a blind spot on the farming PR radar? Above all, have we neglected our capital? Like the place or loathe it, London is a key hub in nearly every measure. As farmers we ignore it at our peril.

Around 20 years ago, both in 1989 and 1992, large festivals of Food and Farming were held in Hyde Park. They were great successes attracting crowds close to one million each time as well as wide media attention. In short, my contention is that if holding such events was possible then, surely it must be even more viable now. Indeed, at the end of the 1992 festival a survey of exhibitors and visitors showed that over 90% felt it should be repeated soon. You could argue that 20 years on this is very over-due. And the good news is Royal Parks are keen to have agriculture back amongst its vast lawns and paths. The previous events are remembered fondly and they very much fit in the charter of the park authorities. To my mind, if the most iconic outdoor venue in Britain is keen to host us then British agriculture farmers would be daft not to take up the offer. Furthermore it would give English agriculture something it no longer has – a national platform to celebrate itself. Although such an event should in no way attempt to replicate the Royal Show, it would be good to think it could revive some national ‘esprit to core’ in our nation’s most important industry.

Hyde Park is a most excellent place to hold the most prestigious of Agricultural shows. You have ten million people within an hours travel time and thirty million a couple of hours further. Within a few miles curtilage there are 2400 schools. Talking of schools, one needs to ask the question as to how many of the pupils at these city schools get an invite to a farming event to witness farming for real. FACE the leading farming and countryside charity estimate that if invited then London’s schools would bring as many as 150,000 of their pupils to have a day learning about British agriculture and the British countryside.

So, the first steps have been made. A company with charitable objectives called Farming in the Park Ltd. has been set up to act as a hub and catalyst for the event. The dates September 26 to 29, 2013, have been penciled in by Royal Parks. A launch is to be held at St.James Palace kindly hosted by The Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness’ support was key to the success of the initial 1989 event.

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All that is needed now is for every county in Britain to bring together half an acre of exhibits that exemplify the best of food, farming and countryside in their patch. From Essex pigs to Suffolk punches, from Cumbrian sausages to Cornish Cream, from Kentish Oast houses to Cambridgeshire Combines, British agriculture has the resource and richness to put on the greatest show on earth. All it needs is a bit of enthusiasm, a modicum of imagination and a dollop of money.

So what’s to stop us?

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