By Kirra Grimes
CITY kids found out where their food comes from and had their eyes opened to career opportunities in agriculture as they visited South Gippsland farms last week.
Year 7 to 11 students from Flemington’s Mount Alexander College spent the day at Schreuers and Sons vegetable farm at Middle Tarwin and Jelbart Dairy at Leongatha, hearing about the wide range of jobs performed every day to deliver high quality products to our kitchen tables.
Tim Jelbart and his full-time farm manager Mike Kilkenny ran through all aspects of the Jelbarts’ large scale operation, emphasising those tasks that may not fit into the stereotypical image of a dairy farmer – such as the use of science and technology.
“The perception of a dairy farmer is someone in tattered old clothes, driving an old tractor… but there’s a lot more to the industry than that,” Tim told the students.
“In my day to day life, I’m doing accounting, electrical work, plumbing, agronomy… we’re looking at genetics, dairy software programs… so, don’t think of dairy as just milking cows and rearing calves – there are lots of different opportunities if you don’t want to sit behind a desk in the city,” he said.
Several of the students said they’d never considered a career in agriculture before the excursion, having had little exposure to the industry.
One of them was Year 10 student Ester, who by the end of the day, still had her heart set on studying nursing and midwifery, despite being drawn to the idea of working with animals on a farm.
“Seeing how they care for the animals and the calves has made it a little bit more appealing, and I’d consider the veterinary side of things maybe. But I’ve always been pretty keen on going to uni, and I never knew about courses for this kind of thing,” Ester said.
Asked how to convince kids without existing connections to farming to enter the industry, Tim said increased emphasis in the school curriculum, complemented by farm visits, would be a good start.
“As a society, we’ve lost connection with where our food comes from.
“Not many people journey out and want to see and understand what we do, but if we can get kids to come out and see what happens on a farm and educate them on how important farming is to our culture and society…
“It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s got to be a long-term focus, especially to start to counteract some of the negative media coverage we’ve been getting, but we need to start celebrating the fact we’ve got world leading, disease free produce, and farmers out there doing a really good job.”
The excursions formed part of an industry immersion program established in 2018 by the Career Education Association Victoria in partnership with the Department of Education and Training, which is designed to give students in eligible Victorian government schools the opportunity to engage in a range of experiences that build their knowledge of future workforce skill requirements and pathways.
‘Food and fibre’ is one of 11 identified growth industries included in the program. Others include digital technologies and visitor economies.