Bridging the urban-rural divide
There is a ‘hidden and chasmic divide’ between urban and rural life, which needs to be bridged if we are to solve problems in our food system and environment. That is the message from rural affairs journalist Anna Jones in her book ‘Divide’, published in March this year.
Anna was brought up on a sheep farm in the Welsh borders, later living in cities while pursuing her journalism career before feeling the “mysterious pull towards home, family and roots” and returning to a town closer to home.
Her farming background, experience of city life alongside meeting and working with farmers throughout her career, has given her insight and understanding of both worlds.
Farmers and country people are well aware of the urban-rural divide, she says. The agricultural workforce is a minority group – largely misunderstood but vitally important. Take away agriculture and the interconnected rural system and a whole chain of livelihoods would come crashing down, she says in Divide. “The shockwaves would hurt us all.”
Disconnects and differing views
The disconnect between urban and rural people lies in misunderstandings and ignorance of the rural way of life, she continues. Dipping into her own family memories, those of other farming families and her own relationship with her ‘city boy’ partner, she explores the social and cultural differences between urban and rural people.
Attitude to work is one aspect she explores, recognising that the tendency for farmers to be working constantly is a “deeply ingrained institutionalised mindset” which is far from perfect. It brings challenges for farmers and for their mental health but also in their personal relationships, she suggests.
She encourages farmers to engage with those who have differing views, particularly regarding livestock. While the majority of the livestock industry maintains high welfare standards, she says it is important to acknowledge some do not: “Turn on your rotten apples,” she writes. “Stop protecting them. The damage they are doing to our farming industry is a thousand times the damage wrought by animal rights activists.”
Linking food to farming
She also explores the links between food and farming. “For most consumers, food is a best friend we see every day and farming is a distant long-lost cousin we haven’t heard from in years.” But there is also a disconnect between farmers and food production.
Anna suggests many farmers deal in commodities and do not know where their crops or livestock end up. “From my experience, many commercial farmers are far more motivated by national food patriotism – the notion of British food and self-sufficiency – than short, local supply chains and selling direct to their consumers.”
“The simple fact that farms in rural areas produce food and people in urban areas eat food is not, on its own, enough to bridge the divide.”
About Anna Jones
Anna Jones is a journalist, broadcaster, blogger and Nuffield Farming Scholar. Over the years she has worked on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, On Your Farm, Costing the Earth. She is also an occasional freelance producer/director for BBC One’s Countryfile and has written for the Guardian newspaper and the farming press.
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