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Where does milk come from, Mummy?

Friday 05 June 2009

Our countryside commentator John Sheard despairs at the ignorance of some urban children about where their food comes from and welcomes this weekend’s decision to throw open the farm gates to townsfolk visitors

MUCH to his displeasure, the Duke of Westminster is best known in the gossip columns as the richest property owner in Britain, thanks to his acres of posh property in London’s Mayfair. He hates the label because, as he told me some years ago, he is a “countryman at heart.”

The Duke rarely gives interviews but I had been invited to his country estate at Eaton, near Chester, because he had just won a major environmental award for work on the estate which included, for instance, restoring duck ponds – thriving habitats for all sorts of wildlife – and a scheme he had launched to allow school children from the deprived areas of the North West to visit his farms to see how food is produced.

Dairy Cows in Yorkshire Dales
On show Sunday

The latter had been something of a culture shock to the Duke, who also has a thriving shooting estate on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales in the Forest of Bowland, and he told me in an obvious state of shock: “Do you know, some of those kids didn’t know that milk came from cows? They thought it was manufactured in some way in the supermarkets.”

Those children came mainly from the most deprived areas of Merseyside but there were no doubt many more with similar misconceptions in the tougher parts of Leeds and Bradford. They will be young adults now, perhaps with children of their own, and one hopes that they can spare the time to tell their youngsters that milk comes from those (mainly) black and white things that wander about in fields.

That, sadly, begs the question: do they ever see a real field, never mind a cow? And do they think that meat comes wrapped in plastic and that apples grow in totally unnecessary polystyrene trays, which add hugely to Britain’s waste mountain that has used up most of the land-fill sites available whilst giving local councils the excuse to cut their bin collections to once a fortnight?

If so, there is a valuable opportunity this weekend for city folk to load the kids into the car and taken them out into the countryside to visit a real-life farm, see what goes on there, and – for the lucky ones – perhaps the chance to cuddle a new-born lamb, feed some geese, and collect some eggs (now where do they come from, Mummy?).

The fourth annual Open Farm Day takes place on Sunday (see News, Tuesday) and event backed by the environment department Defra and promoted by Natural England, the Government quango which is as worried as me about the lack of knowledge about food production.

I do urge both parents and children to take advantage of this offer

This .of course, acts as one of the causes of the junk-food epidemic that is making diabetes one of the most deadly public health hazards this country has faced since we got rid of rickets almost a century ago. And I hope the mums and dads who take the kiddies to these farms pay attention, too, because they may be just as ignorant as junior – they are, after all, part of the supermarket generation.

Farms in Yorkshire and Humber taking part in Open Sunday are:

  • Fulwith Mill Farm, Fulwith Mill Lane, Harrogate HG2 8HJ
  • Whirlow Hall Farm, Whirlow Lane, Sheffield S11 9QF
  • Green Farm, Hellifield, Nr Skipton, North Yorks BD23 4LA
  • Manor Farm, Kelfield, York YO19 6RG

For more information about Open Farm Sunday and to find a farm near you, visit www.farmsunday.org

I do urge both parents and children to take advantage of this offer because, although obvious but often overlooked, what we eat and how it is produced is one of the absolute basics of life. To live in ignorance of it is, to me, unforgiveable. But let’s not lecture: Sunday is free and will be great good fun. Have a good day!

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