International Youth Day – transforming food systems

This International Youth Day, Kirsten Brewster, previously one of our agricultural advisors and member of our Young Employee Network, talks about the theme of transforming food systems, and how young people can learn more about Scotland’s food system and get involved.

There is a lot going on in terms of transforming food systems and I think it’s a really exciting space for young people to learn more about and get involved in. This has been topical recently because of disruptions to UK supply chains as a result of Brexit and Covid 19, highlighting the importance of self-sustainability as a nation and eating locally where possible.

NatureScot’s Kirsten Brewster and Steven McKenna meet Lynn and Sandra, young farmers at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Agriculture receives a lot of attention for the significant way it has to go to reduce its carbon footprint and improve biodiversity, all while producing nutritious food for wider society. It is vital to ensure that as we reassess land use in the context of biodiversity loss and climate change that we don’t simply reduce domestic production, increase imports and offshore our environmental impact elsewhere.

Wetland creation at Loig Farm near Braco, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Looking forward there are sure to be exciting developments in the way that land is managed and space for innovation to meet our goals. Agriculture policy in the UK is still being developed and rolled out but it is hoped that the substantial public funding available to this sector can be reworked to drive positive changes.

Organic reared cattle at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. Forth and Borders Area. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Farming is not easily defined and there are lots of new (and even old ideas) about how we can live and produce food and other services from land more sustainably such as: agroforestry, organic, pasture fed, regenerative and probably many more!  Ethical considerations are also increasingly gaining in relevance to both consumers and producers as evidenced by recent events and demand for produce.

Staff working at the farm shop at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. Forth and Borders Area. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Agricultural is an aging sector, with the average age of a farmer in the UK at 59 years old. Young people vital to the industry, future proofing food production and bringing in new methods and processes, while access to land is vital for young people to move into this industry.

Learn more…

If you are new to this and want a simple regular round up of news and events there is a great newsletter from the Soil Association Scotland where topics are much broader than purely organic farming. (Did you know that Scot Lady Eve Balfour was a pioneer of organic farming and her book The Living Soil prompted founding of the Soil Association?)

Farmers and members of the public can sign up as members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network for free. And for events, news and resources on food systems and farming check out Nourish.

If you have time you can access resources from previous years of the Oxford Real Farming Conference on YouTube which covers a wide range of topics on sustainable farming from the international to relatively niche.

I would also recommend a fantastic book earlier I read this year English Pastoral by James Rebanks, an upland farmer in the Lake District, which summarises the journey of agricultural intensification in recent decades and more importantly how we might go about reshaping our ways of farming to produce goods such as flood reduction, nature and carbon storage alongside food.

Formal education in agriculture has been considered lacking in content relating to environmental sustainability, but things are changing. For formal learning opportunities visit SRUC. Informal learning through volunteering are also popular with opportunities globally through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms or you could join a study trip.

For up to date information on agricultural and land use policy see our website.

Bumblebee meadow and management at RSPB Vane Farm by Richard Cooper

Get involved…

If you want to buy produce from some of these forward thinking farms you can find out more from the Land Workers Alliance and the organisations above or search at Community Supported Agriculture.

A few interesting places across Scotland you might want to support include Peelham Farm, Blackhaugh, Tap O Noth and Sailean croft, Lismore.

And finally, as mentioned above, access to land is vital for young people to enter the industry. If you are looking for access to land, organisations such as Scottish Farmland Trust, and Land In Our Names particularly for marginalised communities, provide an entry point for new entrants and young people.

NatureScot provides youth employment opportunities including those based in rural skills including ranger schemes, placements and apprenticeships. Please visit our opportunities page for further details.

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