Stephen Jardine: It pays to bring the farm into the city

SUPPORT for the Gorgie facility is a welcome good-news story, writes Stephen Jardine

Scottish MP Willie Rennie visits Gorgie City Farm. Picture: TSPL

If you ever doubt the people of Scotland really care about food and drink, take a look at the Just Giving page of Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh.

Launched 30 years ago, the farm has been going through tough times with rising costs and reductions in funding. Recently it hit crisis point with the news that the farm would have to close unless £100,000 was raised.

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However, the people of the capital and beyond stepped in and raised 80 per cent of the target within just three weeks.

That reaction reflects the fact that Gorgie City Farm has become an institution down the decades. Built on the site of a former waste dump, it has served as a green lung in the city and a vital connector to rural life since it opened its doors in 1982.

For some schoolchildren, it is their first experience of farming. For volunteers it is a valuable opportunity to share skills and inspire others. And then there are the 170,000 people who visit ever year because Gorgie City Farm is simply a great day out.

What is perhaps most valuable is the connection it provides to life outside the city. Last year a survey of 1,000 primary schoolchildren for the food and farming campaign group Leaf showed one in three couldn’t identify the sounds made by cows and sheep and one in five didn’t know bacon came from pigs.

Over the last generation, rural and urban life have been drifting apart. I was brought up in small town where the farmers came to market every week and farms were places to earn money picking potatoes. Today that same market is gone and farmyards are seen as health and safety nightmares.

That dislocation leads to supermarkets being seen as the source of what we eat rather than just a cog in the machine.

Gorgie City Farm plays a vital role in challenging that. Of course in an ideal world there would be regular school visits to the countryside and the Royal Highland Educational Trust does good work in this area but Gorgie City Farm offers an accessible alternative.

If children are being served meat and two vegetables, surely we have an obligation to help them understand where their food comes from so they can make good choices moving through life?

The alternative is to dismiss the countryside as a vast food factory that doesn’t need our attention as long as it keeps producing the goods. That way lies Frankenstein foods and pesticide use we will all come to regret.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be what people want. Last weekend over 250,000 people travelled to the countryside to take part in Open Farm Sunday. Over 400 UK farms took part with blazing sunshine ensuring farmers like Andrew Booth at Ellon in Aberdeenshire had record numbers of visitors on the day.

All these people want to understand more about where what they eat comes from and how it is produced. Open Farm Sunday does that but so does Gorgie City Farm 52 weeks of the year.

On the Just Giving page, the donations have been mounting up. And the good news is, the £100,000 target has been met. Hopefully Edinburgh will continue to have this special place for a long time to come.