Detachment between public and farming continues, Price warns

Waitrose managing director Mark Price has admitted that there is a disconnection between people and the farmed landscape and said there was "no easy fix" for the problem.

Price made his admission to Berry Gardens Growers chairman and Kent-based soft fruit grower Marion Regan, who asked Price to comment on the issue at the Linking Environment & Farming (LEAF) president's event in London last week.

Regan, whose farm has supplied Waitrose for more than 30 years, said: "Increasingly, people's interest in the countryside is at a landscape level. Through LEAF we can demonstrate that a farming landscape is a balanced landscape with room for biodiversity.

"However, there's a huge gap between the perception of what farming should be and the commercial perception. I have a number of issues to do with polytunnels and I wonder whether you could comment on how we can communicate how this is a farmed landscape."

Price, a guest speaker at the event, said: "I do not think there's an easy answer. There is a disconnection. People do not understand where their food comes from."

He added: "It (the countryside) is providing food to enable them to live. I do not think there's a connection at the moment. We only spend nine per cent of our income on food at the moment. We have devalued food and made it cheap. Somehow we have to disconnect from that. Food is a valuable commodity."

He added that schemes such as LEAF's Open Farm Sundays, where members open their farms to the public, and the Prince's Countryside Fund are helping to change people's attitudes.

Price said: "It's only through education that you will get a proper appreciation." He added that Waitrose was "putting a lot of money and work" into the Prince's fund, which aims to help educate consumers about countryside issues.

He also told Regan that people will have to start thinking more about locally-sourced food as it becomes more difficult to import cheap food from around the world.

Price said: "I personally feel that there should be a proper organisation globally that's managing raw food supply. I do not think that governments are taking a global view."

Regan was a member of Defra's fruit and vegetable task force, which recommended that a statement expressing the importance of domestic food production should be included in the national planning policy framework.

It followed opposition faced by many soft fruit growers over the past few years from local residents objecting to their use of polytunnels on the landscape.

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