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Adam Henson: A way to connect the public with the farming community

PUBLISHED: 11:57 11 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:57 11 October 2016

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Adam Henson reports on a novel way to connect the public with the farming community

I had no idea that T-shirts could cause such a stir on social media! Please don’t get the idea that I’m venturing into the fashion industry or that I’ve become some sort of Twitter whizz kid. But when we were making plans for Countryfile’s first big public event recently, we were determined that our farming colleagues should look the part. ‘Ask the Farmer’ is an ingenious and very simple way of putting UK agriculture in the forefront of shoppers’ minds and getting the message across about some great British produce.

So when tens of thousands of people poured into the grounds of Blenheim Palace for BBC Countryfile Live, I was there with dozens of fellow farmers to answer visitors’ questions and queries face to face. As we gathered these successful, inspiring and enthusiastic farm folk together, they were divided into their individual sectors; Team Dairy, Team Sheep, Team Beef, Team Poultry and Team Pigs. We knew that colour-coding the groups in yellow, red, blue, purple, pink and black would help the public identify them, but I had no idea that their bright, logoed T-shirts would prove such a hit. Pictures of them have been tweeted, posted, uploaded, downloaded, swapped and shared thousands of times. It’s been quite astonishing.

But behind the social media success is a serious issue. The general public have a keen interest in where their food comes from and want information they can trust about farming. As one industry newspaper described it, consumers at the show displayed a “thirst for knowledge”. There have been hundreds of people applauding the way ‘Ask the Farmer’ connected the public directly with the producers.

Among them was James Robinson, President of the Shorthorn Society who’s an organic dairy farmer from Kendal and who spent two days with us at Blenheim.

On Twitter James said he thought the event was a great success, connecting agriculture and the shopper. Then afterwards he reflected that: “As farmers we have a duty to tell our story to consumers. We can’t wave goodbye to our produce at the farm gate anymore, the buying public is keen to know more about food production and animal welfare on our farms”.

He’s absolutely right. That’s why the stereotypical image of a grumpy old farmer, chewing a piece of grass as he leans on a stile, is so out of date. These days it’s more likely that your nearest farmer will be a young, customer-focussed, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial woman, who’s far too busy to waste time leaning on anything.

I’m looking forward to more initiatives just like ‘Ask the Farmer’, although I’m not taking responsibility for the ensuing T-shirt envy! 


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