Food and farming
What is food and farming?
Food is something nutritious that we eat. It gives us energy and helps us to grow and keep our bodies healthy and strong. There are four main food groups: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals. Humans are omnivores, which means they are designed to eat food from either plants or animals.
When plants and animals are grown or reared on a large scale for people to eat, it is called farming.
There are three main different types of farm: arable, pastoral and mixed. Arable farms produce crops (for example, wheat or vegetables), while pastoral farms raise animals for meat, wool or dairy products. Mixed farming is when a farm grows crops as well as keeping animals.
Top 10 facts
- There are about 280,000 farms in Britain.
- Many farmers are busy all year round preparing the ground and growing crops, as well as looking after animals and breeding baby animals. Dairy farms milk their cows all year round. Many farmers get up before 5am to start their day and at busy times may work up to 12hrs a day.
- Cattle in the UK have passports that keep a record of their birth and where they get moved to.
- Almost half of the food in world ends up being thrown away as waste. We can reduce waste by using up leftovers; by storing food properly; by freezing food that is about to go off; and by planning what we are going to eat before going to the supermarket.
- About 75% of the world’s population doesn’t drink cow’s milk as they are ‘intolerant’ of it which means they can’t digest the lactose in it after they stop being a baby.
- Nearly 30% of fruits and vegetables don’t get sold in the supermarkets because they don’t look nice enough or are the wrong shape.
- Bananas can travel over 5,000 miles before they reach our supermarkets. An apple picked from a local tree only travels a few metres before it is eaten.
- Crops have been farmed for people to eat for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence of the first signs of farming as long ago as 12,000 years. Today, in the UK, over 80% of the countryside is farmland.
- Farms used to employ lots of people to help do the day-to-day jobs; today machines like tractors and milking machines are used instead.
- Some people grow their own food on allotments. Allotments are small pieces of land rented out to people so that they can grow things on them. There are over 300,000 allotment plots in the UK.
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Did you know?
- Many people try to eat seasonal food. This is food that is ready to pick during that season, rather than food that has been stored or perhaps travelled a long way from where it was produced. For example, in the UK, people may eat courgettes in the summer months, but more leeks and potatoes in the winter months.
- In the UK it is recommended that we eat between 5 and 7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. In parts of Europe it is recommended that people eat up to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
- If you used all the edible meat from one cow you could make over 1000 burgers.
- Between 400 and 800 bars of chocolate can be made from one cocoa tree.
Food and farming gallery:
- How to make a healthy ‘eatwell’ plate
- The food miles that some fruit travels
- Wheat fields
- Fields in the Yorkshire Dales
- A fishmonger
- Holstein cows
- Dairy products
Food provides us with nutrients which give us energy and help us to grow. It is important to eat a range of foods to keep us healthy; this is called a varied or balanced diet. The main food groups that we need to eat are protein, carbohydrates and fats. We also need plenty of fruit and vegetables to give us vitamins and minerals.
Proteins mainly come from meat and dairy products. We also get protein from certain plant foods such as lentils, nuts and beans. Protein helps our bodies to grow and keeps them strong.
Carbohydrates come from plant sources. They are found in cereals and in fruit and vegetables as well as milk and sugar. We get dietary fibre from carbohydrates which help our digestive systems to function smoothly. Carbohydrates give us energy.
Fats come from dairy products, animals and plant sources such as avocado, olives and nuts. Some fats are good for us, while others are not. Fat helps us grow and also helps us to process vitamins.
Vitamins and minerals mainly come from fruit, vegetables and meat. Vitamins and minerals help keep our bodies healthy and help fight disease by keeping our immune system strong. Vitamins come directly from the plant or animal, while minerals are formed from soil, water, rock and metals that are absorbed into plants.
It is possible to grow your own fruit and vegetables, or rear your own animals, for food, but most people in the UK buy their food from a supermarket. Supermarkets get their food from farmers who either grow large amounts of food or who rear animals for eating.
Farmers need to work hard to make sure that the food they produce is of a high standard. It needs to be edible, so crops and animals need to be kept healthy and disease-free. Many supermarkets also have standards about the way certain fruits and vegetables need to look before they will sell them.
Farming can take a range of forms. Intensive farming produces a high amount of produce by using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and by keeping animals indoors. Organic farming doesn’t use chemicals at all, but tends to produce less, more expensive produce. Free range pastoral farming allows animals to spend at least half of their life outdoors. This sort of farming is considered kinder to the animals and aims to produce a better quality of meat.
The food in our supermarkets comes from all over the world. Some is produced locally, while other produce may have flown or been shipped or driven a very long way from where it was grown or reared. We call the distance that food has travelled before it gets to the supermarket, ‘food miles’. Local food tends to be fresher and better for you as it still has most of its vitamins and minerals. It is also better for the environment to eat food that is from close to home.
A lot of the food we buy has also been processed. This means that it has perhaps been cooked or mixed with other ingredients. For example, sausages are made from pork and often contain breadcrumbs and seasoning, while tomato ketchup is a combination of lots of ingredients, cooked to form a sauce. Food is also often stored in a range of ways to help keep it fresh, such as sealing it in a tin or jar, or perhaps freezing it.
Words to know for food and farming
Farm: a place where crops are grown or animals reared on a large scale
Farmer: someone who runs a farm
Agriculture: the entire practice of farming from preparation of the ground, or breeding practices, through to producing products and selling them
Husbandry: rearing and breeding animals
Produce: the food created by farming. It includes meat, vegetables, fruit and other crops
Food miles: the distance food travels from its source to where it is sold or eaten
Food groups: the various types of food: protein, carbohydrate, fat and vitamins and minerals
Dairy: food that is milk or milk products
Allotment: a small plot of land rented out for growing things on
Arable farm: a farm that produces crops
Pastoral farm: a farm that rears animals
Mixed farm: a farm that produces crops and rears animals
Harvest: gathering in crops for selling
Organic: a method of farming that doesn’t use chemicals at all
Free range: allowing animals to spend over half of their life outdoors
Just for fun...
- Complete the Countryside Classroom passport, with 18 challenges relating to food, farming and the natural environment
- Take the farm to fork challenge
- Play Tricky Trawling and learn how to fish without damaging life on the sea bed
- Find out where your meals come from
- Calculate food miles for a meal
- Download an activity pack about how butter and cheese are produced at 100% green energy Wyke Farms
- Show off your farming knowledge with a CBBC quiz
- Why not try growing your own food? Download some Grow Your Own Cards to help you
Children's books about farming and food
Find out more
- Watch a video introduction to farming for children
- Print out some food and farming colouring pages
- Download and read Pip and the Apples, a free storybook from British Apples & Pears.
- Tractor Ted This Month on the Farm offers preschool information about food, farming and the countryside
- Plants as crops: information for children
- Watch a short BBC Teach film about farming, or agriculture, across the UK and beyond
- Learn about life cycles, food chains and habitats on a farm
- Download a free information and activity pack about food and farming
- Watch Grain Chain videos to find out how wheat is turned into flour
- Information about food miles and how we can reduce them
- Countryside Classroom is packed with learning activities
- Download Colour in the Margins arable discovery activities to understand more about how the use of herbicides and pesticides and changes in farming threaten arable habitat and the plants and species who live in it
- Find out more about fruit, vegetables and manufactured foods in a series of videos from Food - a fact of life.
See for yourself
- Find a farm to visit near where you live
- Play some allotment games
- Find out about how to grow your own vegetables
- The Tesco Eat Happy Project video channel offers lots of kids' videos about how different fruit and vegetables are grown and other foods are produced, in the UK and all over the world