Farms2Schools officers reflect on their experiences

23 December 2020

From July – December 2020, the PPWCMA worked with local farmers and schools to deliver Farms2Schools. This agricultural education program connected primary and secondary students with farms and agricultural businesses, to highlight the diversity and importance of agriculture around Melbourne and the potential for farming to be a rewarding career choice.

Farms2Schools was supported by the Victoria Government through the Working for Victoria initiative and employed three full time staff for six months through the economic downturn associated with coronavirus (COVID-19).

The PPWCMA expresses their gratitude to the Farms2Schools officers – Camille Coleman, Narelle Debenham and Osman Sobrie – for their outstanding work throughout the program. They worked with 40 farmers to deliver 240 online incursions to 9963 students from 49 schools during coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions (and 1 excursion once restrictions eased).

Below is their personal reflections of the last six months.

Osman Sobrie

Before joining the program, I was looking for jobs in community development, as I worked voluntarily for many years in that area. I was so delighted to be part of a program focusing on creating strong connections between schools, farmers and locally-produced food and creating a financial opportunity for farmers.

The program faced many challenges caused by the changing coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and its impacts, but I am pleased with how the Farms2Schools team came together and shared their knowledge and capability to adapt.

I was proud to be part of the program team, as we worked as a team, developing the online incursions, and supporting each other to deliver them. I had the honour of presenting the first online incursion of the program, and during the program’s implementation, I achieved a lot of professional development and training that I can use for my future employment.

Farms2Schools provided multiple benefits, such as improving students’ knowledge on farming and agricultural industry and farmer income, but it also positively impacted health, education, economy, and the community. It was a win-win situation as it is introduced a love of learning, improved student eating habits and brought new market opportunities for farmers.

Thank you to PPWCMA staff, Camille and Narelle, and our manager Karen, for their contribution to the program.

Camille Coleman

Farms2Schools has been a fantastic program to be part of. My key aim at the start of this program was to expand awareness about primary industries in Victoria and its importance in the Australian economy, environment, and community. This program has done just that.

Being able to support farmers in the region has been fantastic, and a valuable opportunity for our schools. The enthusiasm of the younger primary years in particular, to learn, ask questions and show their appreciation of the farmers and the program has been a rewarding experience as it makes you truly feel you are making a difference. I am sure the secondary students will show this appreciation at a later date!

I am proud of Narelle, Osman, myself and our manager Karen for being able to work so effectively together despite the constraints that coronavirus (COVID-19) brought on. As a team, we’ve been able to collectively develop a program which exceeded the schools’ expectations and gave our local farmers new opportunities during this difficult time.

Thank you to the entire PPWCMA team for their support and enthusiasm of us and the program. The way the whole organisation has adapted to the evolving constraints and new ways of working, while welcoming on multiple new employees, has been amazing.

Being able to host many incursions (and the only excursion) showed me the power of what introducing students to farms and produce at a young age does. Students saying that they will now look to purposefully buy local produce and re-visit the farmers they spoke to is an invaluable outcome for communities and Australian agriculture.

Lastly, I personally hope we have encouraged a number of young people to think of agriculture as a career path and in particular have shown the girls in class, how strong and capable women are in this male-dominated industry. 

Narelle Debenham

As a Farms2Schools Project Officer, I had the pleasure of coordinating virtual school incursions for young people to meet and connect with their local farmers. Through these experiences, students increased their awareness and understanding of the paddock-to-plate process.

At a time when innovation, creativity, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving are all skills future employers will seek in young people, it was an exciting challenge to develop and deliver a program that enabled these traits to be explored by students through local farms.

These vital experiences helped our young people develop so much knowledge and connection around where their food comes from. Feedback showed that students are also now motivated to explore potential careers in agriculture and land management. This, teamed with the fact that farmers and schools are pleading for the initiative to be supported in the future., shows that Farms2Schools is a beneficial and important community program.

A highlight for me was co-creating a video profiling jobs on farms for young people, with the aim of reducing the current average age of our farmers from 58 years. This, along with the other Farms2Schools resources, will leave a legacy that keeps the conversation going.

It was humbling to be part of the hardworking, friendly and vibrant PPWCMA team. Working in a role that encouraged collaboration between communities committed to contributing to environmental health is perfectly aligned with my personal core values. I am proud to have contributed to health and wellbeing of young people, farmers and the environment at such a pivotal time.