Farmers invite the ignorant townies back to the land

ONE in ten people thinks that rice is grown in Britain, despite the absence of paddy fields. Even though we are a nation of beer drinkers, nearly 90 per cent do not know that beer is made from barley. One in five has no idea that yoghurt is made from milk.

Such ignorance about food and farming has led to a £250,000 campaign to reconnect "townies" with the countryside. Every household in the country is to receive a leaflet with key facts about food, farming, looking after the land and wildlife. Posters will appear under the slogan "c/o British Farming", and fleets of lorries will travel throughout the country urging people to visit the countryside.

The initiative, funded by donations from individual farmers and supported by a string of rural organisations representing farmers, landowners, suppliers and food companies, is an attempt by the food industry to improve the image of agriculture.

The survey of 1,000 adults that highlighted Britons' ignorance about food also showed lack of knowledge about its origins. Two thirds did not know that sugar is grown in Britain; nearly half knew nothing about British asparagus; a third did not know that cherries are grown here.

More than half did not know that vegetable oil is the main ingredient of margarine and less than one in ten knew that most food eaten in Britain (64 per cent) is home grown.

Farmers' leaders were also alarmed that two thirds of the population had never met a farmer, and nine out of ten had no connection with farming at all. Twenty years ago nearly a quarter of the population had relatives in farming.

Young people are as ignorant as their parents on the subject, according to a separate survey for the charity, Farm and Countryside Education. When 11 to 16-year-olds were asked to describe a farmer they came out with stereotypical images. Boys said farmers were very rich with big houses, or were simple and wore dungarees, a flannel shirt and wellington boots and shouted "Get off my land" in a Somerset accent.

Girls appeared to have an even more archaic view. For them a farmer also wears dungarees, a flannel shirt and wellingtons, but he has a straw hat and leans on a haystack with a pitchfork and a horse and cart near by. Neither gender felt that farmers looked after the landscape; most thought the countryside looked after itself.

There is hope for a flourishing rural economy, however, because the young people said that they liked the countryside and thought it a quiet and restful place to escape to. Even though they knew little about food or the food chain, they said that they were keen to get rural jobs. Becoming a vet or working with horses were favourite ambitions.

Richard Macdonald, the director-general of the National Farmers' Union, said yesterday: "This campaign is about helping people to reconnect with their rural roots and developing a greater appreciation of things that were once instinctive to us."

Mark Pendlington, the chief executive of the Country, Land and Business Association said: "We are issuing an invitation to the public to visit the countryside. We hope this will help people make better informed choices about food and help them to appreciate why our beautiful landscape looks the way it does."