Young people’s perceptions of the agri-food industry
Many believe young people don’t know or care where their food comes from. But a new report from LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) challenges this idea after undertaking a large-scale piece of research involving 2,500 12 to 19-year-olds.
Supported by the School of Sustainable Food and Farming at Harper Adams and McDonald’s, LEAF Education (a core pillar within LEAF) set out to test the theory of disinterest. And if true, they tasked themselves with exploring how the agri-food industry can provide better access and opportunities for those it needs to attract to secure the future of our supply chain.
To their surprise however, while those surveyed had little knowledge or understanding of food and agriculture, they weren’t indifferent, the climate crisis a commonly cited motivation.
“The young people we spoke to care about sustainability and climate change and the role food production plays,” says Carl Edwards, LEAF Director of Education & Public Engagement. “They view food producers positively and are keen to know more about them to feel empowered in their buying decisions.”
Asked about the main function of a farm, responses included ‘producing food’ (75%), ‘looking after the natural environment’ (66%), ‘rearing animals’ (42%) and ‘helping to tackle climate change’ (40%).
Those surveyed were also asked to agree/disagree with the following statements:
Farmers look after crop health on their farm
Farmers make sure what they do is sustainable
Farmers care about the health and welfare of their animals/livestock
British farmers play an important role in fighting climate change
But what about becoming part of the industry rather than consumers of it?
Here too, the results were encouraging, because careers in the agri-food industry were seen as ‘rewarding’ and ‘fulfilling’ due to their ability to impact on the environment positively.
When asked about considering a job in agriculture specifically, 19% answered ‘likely’ and 34% ‘maybe but need more information’, although only 18% had received careers advice on agriculture in school.
Given choices about future careers are being made by the age of at least 16 or 17, guidance on how to link school subjects to agriculture-related careers is needed. To understand how young people would like to learn more about this, they were asked for their ideas.
“We were keen to hear from the young people themselves,” says Carl. “And the strong preference was to learn on farm through visits and work experience and from those within the industry.
“So often for young people, personal connections have the greatest impact. Meeting and talking to those in the industry is incredibly valuable to them.”
Reflecting this, part of LEAF Education’s research was held with 80 young people on a LEAF demonstration farm and an additional residential event at Harpers Adams University.
“We saw the impact of hands-on experience immediately,” comments Carl. “At the end of the residential event, 83% of those attending said their opinion of the agri-food industry had changed positively as a result.”
About 40% of LEAF Education’s work already involves secondary school age students, but Carl is keen to build on the findings of this research to promote the industry as a place of opportunity, innovation and significance.
“This extensive piece of research is incredibly important in giving young people ‘a voice’ in how collectively, we convene the leaders of today to implement the actions required for the generations of tomorrow.
“To find out how to become involved, I encourage farmers in the South West to contact their local LEAF Education Specialist Lisa Dunne, who farms in Cornwall having previously taught at Truro & Penwith College.
“And to meet other farmers and educators taking their first step in engaging with schools or the public and/or those who have been doing it successfully for many years, we’re holding a Pop-up Knowledge Hub on Wednesday 18th October 2023. We’d love farmers to join us,” concludes Carl.
Visit www.leaf.eco/education/research to read the full report, How Do Young People Perceive and Value the Agri-Food Industry?