Opening Doors


At the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference held in Canberra it emerged that there are two major impediments when it comes to educating the wider community about the importance of primary industries here in Australia.

The first is a negative perception in general, and the second is a huge disconnect between schools and industry.

In my last blog DESTROYING MYTHS I wrote about the need to destroy the misleading myths that dominate the primary industries image in the media and where better to start than with the next generation in the school system.  Not just secondary but also primary school age is considered essential.

When you think about it, agriculture is also perfect to underpin all of the STEM learning opportunities that the Australian Government is currently promoting and we all know that hands-on, real-life learning opportunities have far better outcomes.

Opening our business doors and farm gates to educators and students to break down these myths and promote understanding is crucial.

In the United Kingdom one of the options to receive a farm subsidy is to help deliver on farm education to schools.

In Scotland, and here in Australia, many producers concerned about the future willingly cooperate with their local schools for farm visits and work experience providing the schools give their support on the paperwork side.

Wambiana Station, a 50,000 acre working cattle station 70 kilometres south of Charters Towers in Queensland, has been hosting farm stays for school, university and industry groups for 24 years.

Michelle Lyons at the Food & Fibre Matters conference sharing the benefits of opening the farm gates to students.

Michelle Lyons at the Food & Fibre Matters conference sharing the benefits of opening the farm gates to students.

“As producers it is our responsibility to explain good animal husbandry and not sugar coat it,” explains third generation farmer, Michelle Lyons.  “We put a human face to farming and help them understand why we need to vaccinate, castrate and brand our animals.”

She believes that a multi-sensory approach of absorbing and participating in farm life engages the interest of students.

Even sceptical zoology students coming to a cattle station to study biodiversity have been pleasantly surprised.  “Under the right conditions cattle and bio-diversity can co-exist,” smiles Michelle. 

Wow.  There goes another myth!

With my rural entrepreneur hat on I was invited to present a business and education perspective at the Food & Fibre Matters Conference and was pleasantly surprised to find such similar thinking over the two days of the conference.

In my 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN RURAL CAREERS presentation I spoke about a group of Wimmera farmers leading the way in establishing the Broader Horizons Program with St Arnaud Secondary College taking groups of students on a six week program to explore careers in agribusiness.

A significant outcome of this one day a week program was the realisation of students that higher learning is required to work in agriculture.

“I thought work on a farm would be easy but it’s not. Not just rock up and get a job, more to it. I need to focus,” reflected one student who participated in the Broader Horizons Program.

After all these conversations around the region and at the conference it is clear to me that business and primary industries have got exactly the same challenges and opportunities.  So, together let’s start destroying those myths and opening those doors!

For more information about the PIEFA Food & Fibre Matters conference FOLLOW THIS LINK

For free business resources for the classroom FOLLOW THIS LINK 

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.