The power of connection between farmer and citizen

Direct contact between farmers and citizens is not only necessary to prevent polarisation, but also to enable a successful transition to circular agriculture. Wageningen University & Research dedicated a full chapter on this in their Kringlooplandbouw (circular agriculture) publication.

Now that many people choose to go on holiday in their own country because of the coronavirus measures, chances are that they will end up in the Dutch countryside more often. They might be camping on a farm, playing a game of Farmersgolf, or cycling past farms that sell eggs, dairy, or vegetables. Direct contact between farmers and citizens can lead to a greater understanding towards farmers — a welcome development in times of growing polarisation. Images of angry farmers on large tractors driving through The Hague — or closer to home: across the WUR Campus — are still fresh in people’s minds.

Fortunately, there are many more farmers looking for a connection in a friendlier way, according to the Boer-Burger verbinding (farmer-citizen connection) chapter in the WUR publication Kringlooplandbouw. They want to increase the involvement of citizens with their farms, as they know that circular agriculture is only possible when farmers and citizens unite.

Consumers often have little idea what is required to produce food or what the impact of their personal choices is

Consumers often have little idea of what is required to produce food or what the impact of their personal choices is on humans, animals, and the environment. Increased awareness can contribute to people feeling more solidarity with the efforts of farmers, and they may make different food choices as a result. The selection of more plant-based and less animal products, and more local and “green” products, is crucial to close the cycle.

Bridge builders

Farmers and citizens are progressively reaching a greater understanding through new types of contact — not only on farm property, such as in farm shops or on farm camp sites, but also on social media or through crowdfunding. Farmers who are broadening their activities are involved in “multifunctional agriculture.” These types of farmers — largely women, incidentally — also provide childcare, general care, or farm education. Dairy farmer Heleen Lansink once had the idea of installing a milk tap at the farm, where people could tap their own fresh milk, which at this point has evolved into her giving many talks about the daily operations of a dairy farm as well. She speaks about it in this video, in a conversation with WUR researcher Marcel Vijn

Multifunctional farmers — largely women, incidentally — also provide childcare, general care, or farm education

According to Wageningen Professor of Rural Sociology Han Wiskerke, half of farm families earn their income through farm shops, camp sites, farm care activities, and the like. For comparison, there were only 75 care farms in 1997, but now there are 1,400.

Citizens who farm

Another development is that citizens start farming, with new types of ownership. For example, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) involves consumers in the production of food. They become members of a cooperative, and together with the farmer, they will determine what types of vegetables and fruit will be grown that year. This way, the farmer will be close to its customers and the consumer will be able to see with their own eyes what needs to happen before the products are on their plate. Herenboeren (gentlemen farmers) are an example of CSA. This type of agriculture also fits in with the circular philosophy, because the farmer produces only to meet demand, which results in less waste.

More than just the farmers

The perception of citizens is important for the goodwill for the farmer. It helps to repair the connection between farmer and citizen and contributes to improved social support for agriculture and horticulture. Farmers who have more contact with citizens also report experiencing more appreciation, and it makes them more satisfied with their work.

The farmer can make their business more future-proof by tapping into new directions and taking advantage of online opportunities. A diverse business will be less dependent on one speciality and will therefore be more resilient if one particular sector is not performing well.

Farmer Heleen Lansink says: “Farmers can’t do it by themselves; we need society to be involved so that agriculture and livestock farming is shaped in a way that is supported by everyone.”