24 May 2002

WHATFARMERSCANDOTO PROMOTETHEIRPRODUCT

Seasoned campaigner

Roger Foxwell is urging

farmers to take up the

cause and promote school

milk. Here, he gives

Tim Relf a few pointers on

how to go about it

YOU need to start at the bottom and work up," says East Sussex farmer Roger Foxwell.

A good starting point, he says, is "motivating" parents who can then lobby their childrens school. Such pressure from ground level can work wonders, says Roger, who over the past year has been on a "one-man crusade" to get more free and subsidised milk offered.

Roger, whos also campaigned on supermarket labelling, feels passionately about the subject, despite being an arable producer himself. "I want to see dairy farmers still farming in five years time and, at the rate were going, a lot of them wont be.

"Ive stood at the gates and given leaflets out to mums and dads after school," he says.

Talk to teachers, heads and governors, too, he urges. Some farmers are governors themselves, so theyll be ideally placed to raise the issue at meetings. "Get it on the agenda and discuss it."

First, arm yourself with the facts and figures about the nutritional value of milk, he advises. This information can be obtained from The Dairy Council. "A lot of people may not be aware how fat-free milk is."

And while it can be difficult for many farmers to find the time to campaign, theres probably somebody within the family – possibly a retired relative – who could do it.

Its vital to expand the free and subsidised milk scheme if the long-term future of dairy producers is to be secured, says Roger. "Theres an awful lot of kids out there. Were talking about tens of thousands of children in every county in the country. Its not just school children either – its nursery children as well.

"They are the next generation. Get them into the milk drinking habit at, say, under five and theyll get a taste for it. Otherwise the danger is theyll choose sweeter drinks rather than something thats healthier for them."

Schools, says Roger, sometimes point to the possible administration burden that introducing a scheme would bring. "There are schools out there that are doing it – and doing it very successfully. You can make excuses not to do it – or you can do it and make it work very well."

Another goal for farmers, suggests Roger, should be to get promotional material into doctors and dentists waiting rooms. "Go in, speak to the person in charge and show them some of the leaflets," he advises. "It takes five minutes – in my experience they are very supportive."

Even if the farmer is too busy, somebody within the household can drop them off, he adds.

Hosting school visits on your farm is also a good way to get the message across, says Roger. "Once they can relate to farmers, theyll be more likely to help support the industry. Schools, themselves, will be more likely to participate if they can relate to a local farmer."

Rogers own milk campaign began last year when he realised more than 41,000 youngsters in East Sussex who were eligible for free or subsidised milk were not getting it. Four schools are now participating as a direct result of his effort, he claims.

The months ahead, he says, are a good time to campaign, in advance of the new school year beginning in the autumn. "That means a new lot of children and a new lot of parents."

Rogers worked with the local NFU, to produce a leaflet giving guidance on how farmers can help in the fight. "Were saying to them: Now is your opportunity to make a difference. Lets make it happen."

He also urges farmers to enlist the help of the media to promote the cause. One of his big successes was encouraging The Daily Telegraph to run an article last year raising awareness of the issues. "Ive had no media training – Im just Joe Public. It can be achieved.

"Farmers have got to get out and promote the industry. Farmers realise that it can be achieved – but it will only happen if everyone gets involved.

"Remember, this could save your business," he concludes.

Milkman – and boy…

Roger and his son Tom.

MILKY WAYS

Next week in Farmlife well be giving you more details on how to get schools in your area to offer kids milk. Plus, well be launching a competition which offers big cash prizes for campaigning parents and pro-milk schools.