In my experience, the general public, as a collective, can be a bit bonkers.
My first foray was giving away samples of beef and lamb in the middle of Bristol. We had a load of apron-wearing farmer types handing out bits of sirloin, when we were approached by a large gentleman with the mad stare of someone best avoided. I chatted away about farming to him; he chomped on some British beef and all was going well until he whispered quietly in my ear: “Did you know, I’m Elvis Presley.”
Now when someone is a lot bigger than you and has the mad eyes and tells you they are Elvis, I have found the best policy is to agree. So I did.
“Would you mind if I borrowed your microphone?” he said, and before I had a chance to answer, he whipped his rucksack open, produced a full zip-up glittery cat-suit and a wig and gave a rendition of In the Ghetto.
It was two lessons in one: firstly, that Elvis may not have left the building just yet, and secondly, don’t underestimate what can happen when the public lump together in one place.
With this experience seared into consciousness, you can imagine my thoughts on the prospect of three days at the Great Yorkshire Show. I don’t tend to “do” agricultural shows very well. This is because my feet end up hurting, I get sandwiched between a crying toddler in a pram and an old man on a mobility scooter when I am walking around, and I invariably get conned into buying some sort of kitchen implement that has a name like the World’s Sharpest Knife. I have a drawer full of ’em.
I arrive home foot sore, sunburnt and in a bad mood. Going to a show, for me (and others may agree), is harder work than working.
I’ve changed my mind, though. I have just returned from a jam-packed three days at “The Yorkshire” and what a super show it was.
I cannot dispute that the show is the premier event in the calendar, and I am sure neither would the farmers behind the 12,000 or so entries for classes, or the tens of thousands of punters who packed the show ground in the middle of last week.
At a time when people still talk about the Royal Show with a mixture of great fondness and anger at its untimely demise, the Yorkshire Show seems to me to have rightly taken its place.
Here’s the best thing I have learnt, though: agricultural shows are equal-opportunity events. Anyone can go and anyone does go. From people in full tweeds with shepherds’ crooks and bowler hats to those in tracksuits and trainers, everyone mixes together and I cannot think of a better subject over which to do it. All walks of life in one place, celebrating everything that is great about food and farming.
Most people in farming think the public need to know more about the industry, but this is undoubtedly a two-way street. Farmers need to understand what makes the public tick too. Shearing sheep, parading cattle and milking cows are regular sights for most of us, but we shouldn’t underestimate how out-of-the-ordinary that is for most people and the power that such a showcase has. The amazed faces everywhere summed up why we all do what we do, and long may it continue.
I’ve come back from the show very proud of the industry I work in, and, thankfully, this time Elvis was nowhere to be seen.
Adam Bedford completed an MSc in Rural Development at Newcastle University and now works for the NFU as a policy adviser.