Art and science bringing young people and farmers closer together

For many young Australians, food is something that comes from a shop, not a farm. Lynne Strong and Tony Butler discuss two very different ways of bringing young people and farmers together.

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An estimated 89 per cent of Australians now live in urban areas with no close links to rural communities.

“Agriculture should be a partnership between farmers and the whole community but, in general, people don’t give much thought to how their food and fibre are produced,” says Lynne Strong, National Program Director of Art4Agriculture and inaugural Bob Hawke Medal Winner. “The Archibull Prize is one way of bringing farmers and the community closer together.”

An Art4Agriculture initiative, the annual Archibull Prize is an innovative way of taking the farm into the classroom by providing life-sized fibreglass cows to interested primary and secondary schools. The students transform their cow into an artwork with a particular agricultural theme and also work on a number of multimedia activities including videos, blogs, animations and infographics. There’s a chance to win cash prizes, andthe finalists’ work is displayed at the national awards ceremony held at the Sydney Showground during the annual Royal Easter Show.

Industry ambassadors

Now in its fourth year, the Archibull Prize has reached over 80,000 students and chalked up some impressive successes. For example, last year’s winner ‘Ni Cow’, which was designed by students from Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Glenfield, New South Wales, to celebrate the dairy industry and its increasing links with China, was present at the China-Australia free trade talks held at Melbourne’s Southbank last year. It now stands in the office of the Hon. Niall Blair, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Water.

“For me one of the greatest success stories is the cohort of young people identified by the Archibull Prize and its partner program The Young Farming Champions as potential ambassadors for the food and fibre industries,” says Strong. “After their training they have the knowledge and confidence to engage with everyone from school children to politicians. They work closely with Archibull Prize entrants and also the media and policymakers to ensure that agriculture has an informed voice.”

This year’s Archibull Prize theme is Agriculture – an endangered species.

“This will encourage students and teachers to have courageous conversations about the greatest challenges to Australian agriculture – climate change, food and fashion waste, declining natural resources and biosecurity,” Strong continues. “We want students to be part of the solution by sharing their ideas on how to tackle these challenges as individuals, as a community and as the mums and dads of the next generation.”

Close ties with the community

For the last 20 years, Tumut High School has been forging connections with rural cattle producers, local businesses, show societies and other schools as part of its Rural Youth Cattle Enrichment (RYCE) program.

“The program teaches students about caring for cattle as well as preparing cattle for shows and the market,” says Tony Butler, who was named Tumut’s 2015 Citizen of the Year for his work as Senior Teacher, Agriculture and Primary Industries at the school. “Our aim is to encourage an interest in agriculture and help our students gain knowledge, skills and, where appropriate, a career pathway. The program also helps students to develop personal qualities such as confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills.”

In 2012, the school won $200,000 in a national awards program, that NAB was involved in at the time, which recognised outstanding school-community partnerships.

“We used some of the prize money to lease a property and set up a Charolaiscattle stud,” says Butler. “Since then, two of our students have been inspired to set up studs of their own. A year 8 student purchased a couple of heifers and established a Poll Hereford Stud, while a year 10 student purchased embryos from Canada and established a Speckle Park Stud.”

Students who participate in the Primary Industries program work in a wide range of farm environments for a minimum of 70 hours.

“This helps them to decide where their interests lie,” says Butler. “Many have gone on to careers ranging from veterinary science, horticulture and agronomy to rural business management and environmental science. And students who aren’t interested in agriculture as a career also benefit by gaining a much better understanding of the production of food and fibre and issues of national importance such as biosecurity.”

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