When NO means almost YES

My name is Lynne Strong and I am the National Program Director of Art4Agriculutre

Art4Agriculture is now an Australia wide network of young people growing rapidly each day. We are passionate industry advocates dedicated to bridging the urban/rural divide.

We initiate and promote programs showcasing the people and places behind the food we eat, encouraging students into farming and strengthening ties between the city and country.

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Our programs are a truly innovative way of tapping into youth culture and enthusiasm for the arts.

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They are a fun way to explain the importance of a sustainable agricultural landscape and culture to our urban community and neighbours.

Through our public displays we have been able to give next gen farmers and next gen youth a voice by taking Art4Agriculture programs out of the classroom, onto to world wide web and into to the streets including big events like the Sydney Royal Easter where the bovine artworks and the students social media resources have been viewed by tens of thousands of people.

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I am so proud of and so honoured to with work with the Art4agriculture team of inspiring young Australians who love agriculture and their careers and want to shout it from the rooftops

I was recently asked to do a guest blog post for another blogger under the theme “what drives me”  Over the years may different things have driven me and at times turned my life into a crusade

Today it is fostering opportunities, opening doors, challenging the process, stalking, or  whatever it takes for agriculture to genuinely invest in its young people

I have always found my forte in business as “filling the gap” which to me means I identify the skills and knowledge that the business lacks to function at its highest level and outsource them. Sometimes that person is me. However I believe good business practice is working smarter not harder and I know there are a lot of people out there who have skills and talents I don’t have and I make it my business to find them and surround my team with them

When I returned full time to agriculture 10 years ago I saw some very big gaps that needed filling and elephants in the room that were being ignored at agricultures peril.

The obvious one of course is the consumer. Yes those people we ( farmers) get up every day and work our butts off to produce food for.

Agriculture had been ignoring the most important person in the food value chain for so long, food to the wider community has become all about cooking and eating and recipes and restaurants with little attention paid to the origin of the key ingredients or the land that produces it and the hands that grow it

Now anyone who has spent even a short time in retail let alone 30 years knows the customer is the lifeblood of your business and ignoring your customer’s wants and needs is a business death knell.

When I asked at my industry meetings why farmers weren’t actively engaging with their customers, the farmers in the room invariably said “I am too busy”

My family dairy and yes dairy farmers work long hours but so too do a hell of other people. I know a lot of people who rise at 4am in the morning and don’t get home till 10 at night and they don’t dairy or even farm. They don’t walk around with “I am too busy” badges of honour on their lapel either

So I put up my hand to fill this gap and found the dairy industry in general in NSW was very happy to let me do it alone.

So began my journey for the dairy industry to start two ways conversations with consumers to build lifelong relationships with our customers.

Working initially on the principle the best committee is a committee of one the first and most important thing to do was decide the best demographic to pitch to.

That was the easiest part of the journey. School students are the key. They are our next gen consumers, decision makers, potential competitors for our natural resources as well as our future workforce

I also knew the key to success at the farmgate was inspiring farmers to share the vision so I went searching for people and programs that were resonating with dairy farmers

I came across a program created by an amazing group of dairy farmers who belonged to the Strzlecki Lions Club. The program Cows Create Careerswas run by two superb people John Hutchison and Deanne Kennedy of Jaydee Events and by this time was being funded by Dairy Australia.

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John Hutchison and Deanne Kennedy @ Sydney Royal Easter Show

This secondary school program was rolling out in Victoria only but John and Deanne had trialled it successfully in one NSW school at the invitation of NSW dairy farmer Jane Sherborne

John and Deanne were a breath of fresh air and visionaries but no amount of lobbying at Dairy Australia could convince them to move the program out of Victoria so we came up with another plan and put in an application to IMB Foundation for $30,000 to bring Cows Create Careers to NSW. Excitingly the IMB Foundation shared our vision and the success of the program in NSW has resulted in a domino effect with Cows Create Careers rolling out across Australia

And what an amazing grass roots initiative it is and I for one have found employees through the program and what a great job one of those young people, Emma is doing advertising the program free gratis on behalf of Dairy Australia. Including this YouTube video which has over 14,000 web hits

 

Like me, John and Deanne were keen to build on the success of Cows Create Careers and we began our search for a program for primary schools students. We knew interest in agriculture and its careers starts early in a child’s development in primary school and develops through the entire schooling experience. In addition, decisions around primary industries and agribusiness careers are heavily influenced by parents and teachers, most of whom have very little knowledge of contemporary farming.

After trawling the web and talking to lots of bright minds I came up with the idea for “Picasso Cows” which in turn became the inspiration for Art4agriculture’s Archibull Prize. John and Deane loved it and we created a complete primary school program based on painted cows to tell the story of sustainable dairying using  the Cows Create Careers model.

I found funding to pilot Picasso Cows (special thank you to Kiama Council for believing in me and providing seed funding) in 4 NSW schools in 2007 and a further 10 schools in 2008. The students’ artworks were mind blowing and certainly convinced Dairy Australia that it would be smart of them to fund Picasso Cows nationally going forward

 

One of the exciting side benefits of Picasso Cows is it attracted new and different kinds of young people to agriculture. So I decided to harness all of this energy into what is now Art4Agriculture.

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By this time I had recognised three things

1. The Australian dairy industry was entrenched in silo thinking and it would take a tsunami of people to change this paradigm.

2. Teachers are the key. Reaching and influencing Australia’s 286,000 teachers is a massive task. Yet most school based initiatives aiming to incorporate primary industry contexts into the classroom have failed because they are poorly conceived, too narrowly focused (to one specific industry sector for example), under-resourced, have no or inadequate teacher professional learning components to the activities, or are not designed with teachers’ needs, capabilities and capacities in mind.

3. Encouragingly, many primary industries have a strong desire to better engage with the education sector and actively acknowledge effective engagement requires acceptance of a comprehensive and collaborative vision.

So art4agriculuture began a new and exciting journey partnering and collaborating with education, like-minded farmers, like minded primary industries, with the supply chain, corporates, government and the community.

So what drives me? Some people say I am one of those people to whom no means almost yes and when one door shuts I know another will open if I maintain the rage.

But whilst that may be true its inspirational people who drive me. I love doers. I love people who get up every day and want to make a difference. These people never ever use the words “too busy”. If something needs doing or something needs to change then they find the time to make it happen.

I salute all the people who have made Art4agriculuture the success it is today. I salute those industries who have put their hand up and invested their money in our Young Farming Champions.

I salute all those wonderful farmers and agriculture advocates who give us encouragement and support and open doors for us.

I salute the students and teachers who tell the real story of Australian agriculture through their artworks and social media resources

You drive me

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