Ashburton dairy farmer Stacey Stewart takes time out of her farming day once a fortnight to connect with an urban primary school in Wainuiomata and provide students with a snapshot of farm life, chatting online and sending videos of farm activities.
Stacey’s farm is part of the Farmer Time programme, connecting primary and intermediate children and their teachers with farmers.
The programme, initially developed in the U.K., has been brought to New Zealand shores with the support of Beef + Lamb NZ.
Stacey has connected with Pukeatua school, a small low decile school with a class of 17 children across Years 6-8.
“I make a lot of videos, pop them together and add some voiceovers if need be.
“Then the children can watch the videos and then ask me questions,” Stacey said.
Stacey shows the children all aspects of farm life, from artificial insemination to a cow birthing a calf or a vet providing medical care to an animal.
“We have done a video showing A.I, what’s involved and how we make the decision to put which bull to what cow.”
Stacey doesn’t shy away from the realities of farming when making the videos.
“Vets are all on board; every time they come, I record what they are doing.
“We had a cow with an abscess once, and we videoed the vet as she sliced it open.
“Just a bit of the eww factor,” Stacey laughs.
Stacey sees the programme as an effective way to help bridge the urban-rural divide and educate children on where food comes from.
“It shows them milk doesn’t just come from a carton, and meat doesn’t jump on a plastic tray; it comes from somewhere.”
Stacey also believes the programme gives students a more positive view of farming.
“It shows them farms aren’t bad and farmers are not the devil like we are sometimes portrayed.”
The programme also has the potential to open students’ eyes to a career in the agriculture sector.
“I figure if just one person comes into this industry because of this exposure to farming, that’s one more person we have on our side,” Stacey said.
This sentiment is echoed by teacher Mark Williams, who works Stacey’s videos into the class curriculum.
“It’s about introducing them to a possible career choice,” Mark said.
“That’s what triggered my interest.
“Some of these kids would never choose farming or anything to do with farming if they weren’t introduced to it at primary school.
“It broadens their experience.”
Mark looked to build on the children’s enthusiasm by arranging a farm visit to a Kaiwaiwai dairies near Featherston.
He approached Fonterra, who funded transport costs to the farm, as well as a visit to a cheese factory, and put on a barbeque lunch for the children afterwards.
The visit was a highlight for the students, exposing them to other aspects of farming they could pursue in their future careers.
“It’s bigger than just milk and cows.
“The farm we visited with the electronics, the solar power and the technology that gets used in the process of getting milk from cow to the table.
“There’s a whole range of possible career choices that kids can make out of that.”
The students continue to be enthralled with Stacey’s videos in the classroom and look forward to their fortnightly Farmer Time.
“The videos that Stacey has provided have opened up other areas for teaching and learning.
“The children raise questions in areas where they want more knowledge.”
Mark and Stacey would welcome the opportunity for the class to visit Stacey’s farm and meet her in person if funding could be secured.
With most of the children having yet to travel far outside their city, such a trip could have a strong positive impact on their learning and future career path.
“That would just be the icing on the cake for sure.
“Some of these kids don’t even know what’s outside Wellington,” Mark said.
Farmer Time has just completed a successful first year in New Zealand, with over 1000 students taking part, and feedback from participating teachers, farmers and students has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of this programme from the inception and see it grow so much,” Farmer Time national co-ordinator Marie Burke said.
“Our hard work to match teachers with farmers and growers has paid off, and we can’t wait to see where it will go from here.”
Farmers and teachers who wish to become involved in Farmer Time can visit the website www.farmertime.co.nz to find out more information about the programme.
by Claire Inkson