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Do urban communities care about Australian agriculture?

24 Sep 2015 10:44 AM - Article written by guest journalist, Charlotte Thomson

There’s a general feeling of indignation when Australian farmers talk of the lack of care urban areas have in regards to Australian farming. This talk is far from the minds of urban communities, though who can blame them when agricultural industries are far from view - a case of out of sight out of mind. Increased imported produce has taken the spotlight off Australian agriculture and expanded it to a global industry.


“People should make it their business to find out where their food has come from,” says Sam Mancini, an irrigation farmer from Whitton, south-western New South Wales.  Mancini, among other ventures, produces olive oil and distributes it across New South Wales. “They should know how rare food is, and how little Australian agricultural produce has been tampered with compared to imported produce.”


The urban media portrayal of Australian agricultural industries is non-existent. When it is referred to it is often in cases of natural disasters and animal liberation rights which hold charitable connections to the hearts of many urbanites. This is in regard to relevant charities such as ‘Buy a Bale’ and ‘Animals Australia’ that grace the headlines of media outlets and appeal emotionally to readers.


Considering the complete agricultural supply chain provides over 1.6 million jobs in the Australian economy, there should be more attention brought to Australian agricultural industry and the production processes behind it.


You can’t get a much more honest farmer than Sam Mancini. When I ask him why he believes there is this lack of media attention in rural industries he replies,

“…it’s all down to presentation.  Newspapers won’t sell if a hick in a flannel shirt is on the front cover. They need to interview industry leaders who have the brains to promote agriculture.”


GLOBALLY, AUSTRALIA HAS SOME OF THE HIGHEST AGRICULTURAL FOOD STANDARDS 

He stresses the importance of education of agricultural processes is to the community, in order to keep the Australian agricultural sector in business. Sam reveals how many food regulation standards local produce must meet before it reaches consumers,

“You can’t get much better than Australian produce: its true to label, less packaged and goes through far more food regulations standards than that of overseas produce. If you want good quality shoes, you are prepared to pay more. It’s no different to food.  If you want good quality, sustainable food, you should be prepared to pay more.”


What Darlington Point Rice grower, Frank DalBon, grows is “Green, healthy and fresh.”  He emphasizes education as a must in schools for urban and rural connections to be maintained, 

“Education of Australian agriculture must start in schools for the younger generation to know the benefits of consuming Australian produce. A recent publicity campaign by Australian supermarkets has been mostly successful in promoting Australian produce. People are starting to realise the quality of what we grow here, and prefer to buy from Aussie farmers.”


Bruce Gowrie Smith, director of Goman foods in Darlington Point, has seen seven decades of farming and the many changes that have happened over the years. He paints a different picture of the agriculture sector back in the 1950s. 

“The 1950s produced an awful lot of wealth in woolgrowers. The entire economy was carried on the sheep’s back and life was easy. It’s reversed completely now.”


Ever since the crash of the wool industry in the early nineteen seventies when the community realised the fragility of Australian agriculture, little attention has been made towards establishing urban and rural connections,

“People born form 1950 – 1990 have very little understanding of the challenges and prospects in agriculture. Most joined the work union at a young age and did very little travel around Australia, some would have travelled to geographical locations such as Broome and Uluru but unless they had connections out here, very few would have an understanding of agriculture.”


Despite this Bruce believes it wouldn’t be very helpful if urban communities did care about Australian agriculture, 

“Most people in urban communities have an unbelievably high pressure balancing their own economy and career and probably don’t wish to care about it.”


CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN THE CITY AND THE BUSH

Television shows such as ‘Farmer wants a wife’, romanticises and idealises agricultural life. Some Instagram users will be aware of the account, ‘Thank a Farmer For Your Next Meal.’ Using photos of Australian agricultural industries sent in by other users, the account aims to raise awareness of the effort that goes into feeding the families of Australia. Their account aims to “close the gap between producer and consumer, city and bush.” With a combined nearly twenty thousand followers, the account documents the rural lifestyle and gives an insight into the industry for those who do not live in rural areas.


Bruce Gowrie Smith believes it a positive step in revitalising the tired image of the Australian agricultural industry.  

“There is a new empathy towards agriculture with a lot of the next generation becoming organic and therefore making a bit of an effort to analyse the processes which go into food production.  Television shows such as ‘Farmer Wants a Wife’ glamourises the image of Australian farmers and also disregards the rough and feral clothes and Utes, which is a good thing for improving the agricultural image.”


The lack of education surrounding the Australian agricultural sector is particularly obvious amongst young urban children whose lack of knowledge surrounding basic things such as where milk comes from is becoming more prevalent.


John Preddy, a Riverina pediatrician, calls for an increase in awareness of basic food production methods in children’s education, 

“There’s this urban myth that Australian agriculture is raping the land of all resources. Parents don’t bother to teach their children where tomato’s come from, where sausages are made. There is no concept of what a farm is.”


John, originally from England, can see how distant urban communities are from their rural counterparts, 

“Generations ago families who lived in Rose Bay would have rural connections with cousins who lived on a farm. This is no longer the case because only 3% of the Australian population live on farms.”

This disconnection of rural and urban life is obvious even to those who aren’t directly connected with Australian agriculture. The survival of the Australian agricultural industry relies on the consumers within urban cities. Despite this wide divide of differences, awareness of both urban and rural life is needed in order to realise the benefits consuming Australian produce will bring to Australian industries.