Aussie kids think yoghurt grows on trees: better education needed

If anyone needed further proof that Aussie children need better education on farming, new research showing many think yoghurt is grown on trees and socks come from animals should prove the point.

Of the year six students surveyed, 75 per cent believe cotton socks come from animals and just under half did not know bananas, bread and cheese came from farms.

A young child could be forgiven for such incorrect thoughts, but considering year six students are usually 12 and going into secondary school the following year, it is apparent more education is needed.

Especially if a quarter believe yoghurt comes from trees.

Students in year 10 did not have the same problem as their younger counterparts, with more correctly identifying where pasta, scrambled eggs and yoghurt come from.

Most of them even correctly identified where pearl necklaces came from.

A total of 300 students were interviewed for the study, half from year ten and the other half were year in year six.

The Australia Council of Educational Research, which conducted the study, is concerned about the findings, which prove there is a huge disconnect between farmers and consumers.

“This should be of real concern to parents, teachers and society as a whole: if children do not understand food or where it comes from, how can we expect them to be able to make healthy, nutritious and sustainable food choices?” president Jock Laurie asked.

"Food and clothing are among the most basic of all human needs.

“It seems incredulous that children are not taught more about where these vital products come from, or what goes into growing them."

Another worrying discovery from the research was 65 per cent of students who did not associate farming with innovation.

In January this year, Australian farm groups were considering taking on a US initiative to build public trust in farming to address consumer concerns about modern agriculture and food production.

The initiative, which was established by soybean producers in 2007 and funded by farmers, farm and food organisations and private companies is committed to undertaking research to create messages to increase consumer trust and has had great success.

According to Natioanal Farmers Federation (NFF) executive officer, Matt Linegar, "agriculture’s social licences to operate "are under increasing pressure, particularly as the divide between urban and rural Australians increases.

This divide leads to a huge lack of understanding about farming and agriculture for city dwellers, who have almost permanent availability of any fruit or vegetable, despite weather conditions, which has lead many to question the storage and transport of the produce.

There is also a plethora of jobs available in the farming industry, as fewer people see it as a promising career path.

Even universities can’t get the numbers in agricultural courses, and this year, one of the oldest and most respected courses in the industry was cancelled due to lack of numbers.

Hawkesbury Agricultural College, in Sydney’s west, opened in 1891 and graduates were highly regarded in the industry.

The college was purchased by the University of Western Sydney in 1989 and has suffered declining student numbers over recent years.

With few youngsters wanting to take up the occupation, many third or fourth generation farmers leaving the industry because they can’t make a profit and the average farmer reaching retirement age, the future looks pretty grim.

“We have thousands of jobs available in agriculture and this will continue to grow as the current generation of farmers retire, which means there are enormous opportunities for students. But unless the next generation learn about agriculture and food and fibre production, it seems unlikely that they will ever consider these areas as a career,” Laurie said.

The Primary Industries Education Foundation, which commissioned the survey, wants food and fibre production included in the national curriculum.

"The people who will need to solve the problems related to food security are either currently in school or are yet to be born," chair Cameron Archer said.

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