Stop talking about ‘consumers’, start talking about ‘people’; inform through ‘entertainment’, don’t ‘educate’; and collaborate to achieve success.
These were the key themes that emerged from LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming)’s inaugural Public Engagement Conference. Held this week in London, the conference, titled How can we make a step change in public engagement with food and farming? challenged delegates to think about what public engagement is, why it matters, and what needs to be done to deliver real solutions.
The day featured thought-provoking presentations from industry figures including: Beth Hart, Head of Technical – Fresh Foods at Sainsbury’s; Fran Barnes, Director of Communications, NFU; Patrick Middleton, Associate Director of Communications and External Relations, BBSRC; Chris Manley, National Federation of Young Farms’ Club Chairman; and LEAF Demonstration Farmer Ian Pigott.
Professor Michael Winter, University of Exeter explored why we need public engagement, and how our relationship with food and farming is linked to a number of factors including cultural identity and wellbeing. Jon Alexander, Co-founder and Director of New Citizenship Project challenged preconceptions on public engagement, urging the industry to change the language it uses: to stop talking about ‘consumers’, but to involve ‘people’ as individuals. He featured Airbnb and BrewDog as two inspiring businesses who are involving their customers in their business for mutual benefit and encouraged the industry to take note.
Delegates put the theory into practice, participating in small workshops focussed on projects including: Sainsbury’s Homemade, LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday, Countryside Classroom, AHDB’s This is Dairy Farming and LEAF Marque.
Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of LEAF, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, said: “As we move forwards into the unknown territory of Brexit, it is increasingly important that as an industry we make a step change in how we engage with the public. The conference has highlighted some great examples of best practice in public engagement. We need to learn from these, and more examples from outside of the industry, to find new and innovative ways to engage people in food and farming. LEAF recently released its strategic direction for the next five years and one of our key objectives is to lead a collaborative approach within the industry for better public engagement with farming. This week’s conference has been a great start. The buzz of conversation amongst the one hundred delegates and positive comments has shown the urgent need for this event and collaborative action moving forwards. LEAF will take a leading role in moving this agenda forwards and we plan to make the conference an annual event.”
LEAF also runs the successful Open Farm Sunday, the industry’s annual open day, which was highlighted throughout the day as a leading example of public engagement: ‘It’s non prescriptive. It’s inclusive. It’s a call to action.’ Following the conference, LEAF met with sponsors and supporters of Open Farm Sunday to review the highlights of this year’s campaign, and discuss plans for 2017.