PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES would love to be able to persuade the electorate what good chaps they are without voters realising what they were up to. Subliminal messages are often influential and, provided they have no evil intent, they are legal and can be effective. I wouldn”t want you to think I approve of such deviousness but spin-doctors try it regularly, so why not the farming industry?
Norfolk”s approach to this for the past six years has been to organise an event for schoolchildren during the Easter holidays to which they are encouraged to bring their parents or grandparents.
Held at the County Showground and organised jointly by the show and the local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, which ensures good publicity, the Spring Fling consists of a range of interactive exhibitions about farming and food interspersed with entertaining displays and demonstrations with a countryside theme.
This year more families than ever before paid 4 a head, which included a complimentary hog roast and drink, and spent the day having fun. They participated in free competitions that co-incidentally taught them how UK food is produced, how wholesome and healthy it is and how much fossil fuel is conserved by eating it rather than imports.
Inevitably the mums, dads and grandparents were consulted on some of the answers and since they had the spending power, this was encouraged. And it worked. I have seldom seen so many happy adults and children leaving an event saying: “What a good day.”
One of the exhibitors, Greenvale Potatoes, handed out seed potatoes for children to grow at home. Others asked children to identify which food came from which farm crop or livestock.
It still surprises me how few modern urban people, of whatever age, can identify correctly that bread comes from wheat, chips from potatoes, beer from barley, butter and cheese from cows, and so on.
But once their interest was awakened, most went on to register that the calcium and phosphorus content in milk and cheese are good for teeth and that five servings of fruit or veg a day are essential for good health.
Some of the fruit the National Health Service recommended was, of course, imported. But much of what was necessary could be grown here, which led to another important message on food miles.
The Community Carbon Reduction Project, or CRed, based at the University of East Anglia, has a target to reduce carbon emissions in Norfolk by 60% by 2025. That”s 25 years earlier than the national target set by the government. It had mounted a stand that explained how damaging imported food could be. CRed boffins calculated that a large aircraft carrying carrots from South Africa to London emits more than 2000t of CO2 into the atmosphere.
They also worked out that every carrot calorie delivered takes 68 calories in fossil fuel to get it here.
Norfolk farmers could grow those carrots, CRed said, and they could produce other crops to help replace fossil fuel.
Another serious subject was Fairtrade coffee, cocoa and tea. The Co-op, Oxfam and the Fairtrade Foundation provided excellent publicity material demonstrating how the combination of free trade, over-production and the commercial might of multinational companies were leaving growers around the world with prices below cost of production.
The supporting literature pleaded with consumers to pay a little more to help guarantee such farmers a better living. Few could disagree with the justice of such arguments. But I would have liked to see coffee and other tropical examples matched by parallel pleas for fair trade for British and European farm produce as well.
All in all, however, a worthwhile exercise. About 4000 Norfolk people enjoyed the day and, not for the first time, representatives of other agricultural shows were there to learn how to do something similar.
Variations on the same theme are already being arranged by a number of agricultural associations and I”d like to see the idea spread across the country.