Kids in urban schools across the country are getting excited and invested in the food and fibre sector, we have the Farmer Time Programme to thank for that.
Farmer Time is a pan-sector educational programme that was launched in 2022 by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and connects students (Years 1-8) and their teachers with farmers and growers via video call technology.
Now there are 40 teacher-farmer pairs in the programme which covers just under 900 children engaging directly with farmers and growers and getting a glimpse of what they do and how that impacts New Zealand and them.
“After the first year of Farmer Time New Zealand, we’re delighted with the reception the initiative has had. Reports from teachers and children have been phenomenal. The learning opportunities are huge, it humanises the industry and plants the seed of a potential career,” chief executive of Beef + Lamb New Zealand Kit Arkwright says.
The positive feedback isn’t just coming from the kids and teachers either.
“We all know it’s tough going out there for farmers right now, their morale is at an all-time low, but this programme is giving them the opportunity to make a real difference. It’s real farmers, talking to real children, in real time about real topics,” Kit says.
We spoke with Meat and Wool Industry Coordinator for Federated Farmers, Gemma Hain and her husband Sam about their involvement in the programme. Gemma and Sam operate a 1050-hectare hill country family farm, where Sam grew up, west of Gisborne. They run Hereford cattle and Romney sheep on the farm and live there with their two children Lilla (age 13) and Tom (age 10).
Sam and Gemma jumped on board with the programme mid-May this year with a class of five- and six-year-olds in an Auckland school. They run 15 minutes sessions with the class once a fortnight.
“Our teacher we were matched with has been really flexible and accommodating and willing to go with flow with what’s happening on the farm. It hasn’t been a set day and if we have something big or interesting happening on the farm she’s more than happy for us to phone in and she tailors her teaching session to our call which has been awesome,” Gemma said.
“The teacher has been really interested as well and has helped guide the conversation with the children and promoted good questions.”
Gemma and Sam have kept the sessions related to the big things that happen on farm but noticed that the kids were particularly interested in the animals.
“They really enjoy the work dogs, they love seeing the lambs and calves. When we were shearing, we took a video of the sheep before, during and after they’re shorn,” Sam said.
They posted the children some wool and the teacher brought a spinning wheel into class. Sam and Gemma said it was so lovely seeing how excited the kids were to receive the package of wool and be able to touch it and see it rather than just see it through the video sessions they have.
“It’s a really neat opportunity for us to share our stories with other people and teach the kids, who don’t get the opportunity to go on farms, a little bit about what we’re up to. It humanises us as farmers,” Gemma said when asked about her thoughts on being involved.
“It’s not hard, it’s straight forward and if you have cell reception it makes life a lot easier, but you can record videos and send things in. We never have to think too hard about what to do for the session because there’s always something happening, and the kids are interested.”
Kit Arkwright feels this is steering in the right direction to have a positive impact on all involved and help these kids go into the future with an understanding of the food and fibre sector, and maybe even go for a career in it.
“The 10-year-old who is gaining an understanding from Farmer Time today, will be entering adulthood in under a decade, but with a well-rounded understanding of how our food is produced. We just need all the support we can get from industry partners,” Kit said. Farmers and growers can sign up to take part in the programme in 2023 by visiting the Farmer Time website.