Our little-known rural powerhouse

It’s now officially a disorder: Children’s Nature Deficit. The epidemic of CND came to light during a recent royal visit to New Zealand, where Kiwi kids more versed in Playstation than milk stations were paraded in front of Charles and Camilla. But as one of the world’s agribusiness power-houses, is this really the best look for us?

dwight whitney primary magazineSplendid indeed was the visit to New Zealand by the heir to the British throne and his wife.  But for those of us pushing to position the country as the agribusiness equivalent of Silicon Valley, one aspect was of concern.

Was it a good look to have Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visit Auckland’s East Tamaki Primary School to break ‘cake’ and celebrate an initiative designed to teach children where food comes from?

Don’t get me wrong – diet improvement is a no brainer.  I can see this sort of photo op of the Garden to Table initiative happening in New York or London, but in Auckland?  It starkly showed the depth and breadth of the chasm that exists between our rurally-based engine room and our increasing urbanisation.

The divide is an artificial and unnecessary one.  With the bona fide countryside being less than an hour’s journey from any part of the most urban centres of this country, it shouldn’t have gotten this far.

Federated Farmers Waikato Provincial President Stew Wadley is right to say it is a national concern that we’re in the second and third generation of New Zealanders with no connection to the countryside.

“In 1960’s New Zealand the vast majority of townies had some connection to the rural world through family, friends or rural business connections.  With this came an appreciation of the importance of the rural sector which fed into the mind-set of MPs and ministers,” he says.

Now, as Stew points out, 86 percent of us live, work, and have our friends exclusively in cities. Rather than being broadened, our horizons have narrowed and our understanding of the issues of farming and its contribution to our national wellbeing is dwindling.

Rather than let things slide any further, it is time for action.

Across the Tasman, Australia is at the tail end of Year of the Farmer.  The initiative was put in place to “increase understanding of the role Australian agribusiness plays in food security, technological innovation and the nation’s economy.”  It was also the chance to “remind city folk of the importance of our farmers.”  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Research commissioned by the Australian Government found that the source of basic foods remains a mystery to many.   Of Year 6 students surveyed, 27 percent think yoghurt is a plant product and 33 percent insist cheese can be made only from cow’s milk.

Part of the answer lies in spending more time down on the farm, or, better yet, getting to know people like Fonterra’s scientists and trail-blazers at their Dairy Research Centre.  We’d discover that milk is not only good on our cereal; it is also going to be a key ingredient in improving the health, vitality and wellbeing of people at all stages.  New Zealand agribusiness is capable of amazing things.  It’s time more people knew about that.

Dwight Whitney is a writer, brand advisor, sport horse breeder and former editor of Primary.Click here to subscribe.