The yarn so far……

Art4agriculuture takes great pleasure in introducing you to one of our Young Farming Ambassadors. Our ambassadors are young people in the agrifood sector who have dedicated large chunk’s of their lives to promoting agriculture beyond the farm gate selflessly on behalf of their industry and I am highly confident you will see why Kathleen Allan fits the bill perfectly  

The Kathleen Allan story for your pleasure ……………….   

Hi my name is Kathleen Allan and I am excited about the future of Australian agriculture. I would love to share some of my story – the yarn so far…..

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Kathleen and Yoda

I’m a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a farmer, an AGvocate, an AG-educator, a bit of a foodie and a public servant. I am not sure that I do these “jobs” in the correct order or as well as I would like. I am a typical country mum – a jack of all trades and master of none! Like so many others, I try to do everything and seem to have time for nothing.

Copy of bgc yass

My family, lives on a property on the Boorowa River near Yass in southern NSW, where we run a self-replacing, superfine merino flock and operate our award-winning small business Farm Animal Resource Management (farm) – an agricultural education business that was established in 1994 to promote the importance of agriculture in an increasingly urbanised community. Putting my foodie hat on, we also raise very edible breeds of waterfowl and poultry, fatten pigs, and run a range of “house” cows that are used in our educational displays that also provide the raw ingredients for some great home-made cheeses and ice-cream. That’s value-adding at its best – from the paddock to the plate! Oh yes, then there is our Shetland pony, much loved by all of us, especially my young daughters, Bella and Molly.

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As a fifth generation farmer, agriculture is in my blood, and from a very early age I developed a love of farming and animals. I was obsessed with James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” and like so many teenage girls, I wanted to be a vet. A highlight of my high school years was time spent with my godfather during holidays on King Island in Tasmania. He was the only private vet on the Island, as well as filling additional roles for the Tasmanian and Commonwealth governments.

Lamb marking

With schooling behind me and a “not quite Vet Science score”, I commenced a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England in Armidale. University was great – a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun. My first 12 months at Uni was spent at St Albert’s College (Albies), and at the end of first year, I took up a position as a Riding School Instructor at the New England Girls School. This position allowed me to have my horse from home as well as gave me suitable “digs” to concentrate on study and assignments. The 4 years of study at Uni flew by and I majored in animal health and sheep and wool production, with an honours thesis on Ovine Johnes Disease. Becoming a vet didn’t seem quite as important as I completed my studies and further developed my interest in the sheep and wool Industry. A highlight in my final year was coming third in the Australian National Merino Breeding Skills Competition and receiving the School of Rural Science Deans Prize. But it wasn’t all sheep and study at uni – I met my future husband David while at UNE, and we both graduated with a Bachelor of Rural Science – my degree with Honours in 2008.

I love wool

I love my wool

Just weeks before I finished my degree, my younger sister Lisa-Jane died suddenly at the age of 16. It was a very tough time for all of us and it was so difficult to return to Armidale to finish those last weeks, cope with exams and submit my thesis. So when I did return to Yass, I threw myself into farm life, helping with our, now struggling, display business and got involved with all sorts of community activities before having a stint in the USA as a Riding Instructor at a Summer Holiday Camp in Maine. The added responsibility that entailed, plus the distance from home, turned out to be a great tonic for me.

Back home after a wonderful adventure, I became actively involved in the local Yass Show and the Royal Canberra Show as an exhibitor, steward, judge and committee member. My mother was elected the first female president of the Yass Show Society, and the great part of having your mum as president of the local show is you are guaranteed to be taken along for the ride, whether you want to be or not.. I managed the farmyard nursery for several years and was a steward and committee member in the merino sheep section, while also taking on the duties of Publicity Officer. Wearing this hat, one of the highlights of my time with our local show was when we managed to get city TV cameras out to the event for some excellent coverage! I was a Showgirl and an inaugural member of the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW Youth Group. These experiences were very important for me and I encourage any young people interested in being part of agriculture and regional areas to get involved in their local show. This is a great way to contribute to your community and an excellent way to meet other passionate and enthusiastic people.

Probably one of my greatest achievements when I returned home to Yass after finishing university was my involvement in developing the Johnes Disease management plans for shows – for sheep, cattle, goats and alpacas. This gave me first hand experience developing and applying practical risk management strategies to ensure continuation of sheep showing in NSW. I got to work with Commonwealth and State and Territory animal health regulators and policy developers as well as vets, sheep industry representatives and Royal and State Show Society associations. A satisfying and significant application of my thesis and uni studies!

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Finewool Merino

In 2001 I won the NSW Young Australian of the Year Award for Regional Initiatives for my work contributing to the management of Ovine Johnes Disease and the promotion of agriculture. I was thrilled to be later invited to be an Australia Day Ambassador for Gunning during the Year of the Outback. In 2002 I was awarded the UNE Young Distinguished Alumni Prize for my contribution to agriculture. A very proud moment, but one of the most humbling experiences for me, was being asked to present the Occasional Address at the UNE Graduation Ceremony that year – amidst many excited graduands and in front of those awe inspiring academics and community leaders that make up the fabric of this prestigious university..

Agriculture is not just farming

For the last 12 years I have worked for the Australian government in Canberra. I am what is known as a public servant. During this time, I have held several roles that are all very relevant to the future sustainability of Australian agriculture. Initially working in technical and scientific roles, for the last 8 years, after finding a real love for communication and stakeholder engagement, I have worked in a number of professional communication roles in the areas of agvet chemical regulation, animal welfare, food policy and water management. I am currently working on chemicals and plastics regulation reform – an important issue given all the challenges facing the Australian manufacturing industry. Access to well regulated chemicals is crucial throughout the agriculture supply chain. I really enjoy working for the Australian government and being part of the Australian Public Service as it offers diversity, great career development opportunities, excellent pay and conditions as well as job satisfaction and the flexibility to pursue other passions.

From the paddock to the playground

Breast cancer promo

Breast Cancer Prevention Promotion Day

For the last 18 years I have been part of our highly successful, award-winning family business, farm animal resource management (f.a.r.m).Under the f.a.r.m. banner, we provide farm animal and agricultural education displays at schools, festivals, and agricultural and royal shows throughout Australia. These displays are a way of improving the understanding of where our food and fibre comes from. I am very proud to have worked closely with my mum as she passionately endeavours to help city families understand and value the importance of agriculture.

miss moo adelaide

We have done some pretty amazing displays and events over that time including managing the first live birthing centre in the ACT, successfully staging the biggest farmyard nursery for the last Royal Easter Show at the old grounds at Moore Park and hosting the longest running farmyard nursery display at a major festival – our Patting Paddock was at Floriade in Canberra for 30 days! Our well known cow milking demonstrations have been featured at the National Science Festival, Floriade and other major exhibitions. We have had a cow in the Channel 9 studio in Sydney for Mornings with Kerri-Anne, featured with the cows in several children’s TV shows, as well as managing live TV broadcasts with some rather high profile news and weather presenters. We had our farm/B&S ute and poll dorset wether in a huge chesty bonds shearers singlet as part of the Patting Paddock display at the Deniliquin Ute Muster. And yes, there was that “Farmer wants a Wife” episode too! Last year we did a full cow milking and dairy products display on the lawns outside the ABC studio in Canberra, in full view of all passing traffic, and the program was broadcast live for 2 hours. We have managed media launches for major industry associations at venues such as the Exhibition Park in Canberra, the National Convention Centre and Old Parliament House. To extend the diversity of our work, we have also been known to don period costume at some major heritage events throughout the ACT region.

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Our “Farm to You” education programs, Wonderful Wool, Exciting Eggs, Fabulous Fibres and Marvellous Milk have been developed over the last 10 years with the culmination being the creation and staging of a series of Milking Barns at major shows including the Canberra Royal Show, Sydney Royal Easter Show, Royal Adelaide Show, Ekka in Brisbane and the Royal Melbourne Show. The statistics are scary! At last count, our team of wonderful cows have probably done more than 1200 Milking Barn sessions, allowing nearly ½ million people to learn “where milk comes from”.

royal melbourne show team

Royal Melbourne Show Team

The work of farm is all about ‘bridging the city country divide’, teaching city children and families where our food and fibre comes from and promoting the importance of agriculture. As practicing farmers we are passionate about our job and are committed to providing hands-on opportunities for city families to enjoy and learn about our livestock industries, understand modern agriculture, and hopefully pursue a career in this industry of the future. That is why I am so excited about 2012 being the Australian Year of the Farmer. This year-long celebration of the vital role farmers play in feeding, clothing and housing us all, is long overdue and the Governor General’s words in launching the Year ring very true – “its purpose is to celebrate all those who contribute – and have contributed –to our rich rural history”. In doing so it will introduce Australians to the farmer of today, and smash a few stereotypes along the way. Recently mum and I were thrilled to accept an invitation to act as Champions for the Australian Year of the Farmer.

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To celebrate the role that farming and agriculture plays in Australian life and share some of our experiences we were really pleased to be part of FarmDay in May. On a very wet and windy day – the southern tablelands at its best – we hosted six families at ‘Bindaree’ for a day of fun and friendship. We did sheep shearing, cow milking, cream separating and butter making, as well as a farm walk to see some of the revegetation and rehabilitation work we have undertaken with Greening Australia over the last 12 years.

Farmday milking

I think the highlight for the younger children visiting the farm was going for a pony ride in pouring rain! We finished the day in front of the warm fire with some hot soup, crusty bread and home-made haloumi for the adults while the children managed some very sheepish craft activities and demolished ‘those sheep cupcakes’……

FarmDay cupcakes

The Legendary Farm Day Sheep Cup Cakes ( more on these in another post)

Wonderful wool

I love superfine merinos and the wool they produce. Inspired by the legacy of a grandfather I never met – a very talented sheep breeder and woolclasser with an eye for a good-framed animal carrying a clean, white, soft-handling fleece, I have developed a real passion for sheep and wool. Motivated by my mothers drive to pursue this same dream to produce high quality wool on a relatively small scale, I have been able to maintain this involvement with the fibre I love. Wool is an amazing product – it’s natural and versatile, has a timeless history and an exciting and sustainable future.

nan jane and bella

 Nan Jane and Bella

For a long time I have had this romantic idea that it would be great to wear something made from our wool, and given the size of the Australian wool industry you might be surprised to know that this is not that easy to achieve.

molly in the wool

 Molly in the wool

The Bindareelan Wool concept was conceived in 2008 when it became very obvious that there was a real demand for premium quality Australian merino wool products suitable for use in an increasingly popular handicraft market. This demand coupled with an aim to diversify and value-add the family’s high quality but relatively small annual wool clip and low-value coloured wool into a boutique product led to the launch of Bindareelan Wool.

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bindareelan wool

Our location in the Capital region, an area renowned for an interest in paddock to plate and therefore, grass to garment, with consumers enjoying a higher than average disposable income, means we are ideally placed to position our product. Based on high quality raw wool from white commercial superfine merinos and a small flock of coloured merinos, used in our educational displays, Bindareelan supplies a range of superfine merino wool products. This range includes individual raw fleeces, scoured wool, wool tops, felting batts and 8ply yarn in skeins or balls in a range of white and natural colours, available direct to buyers or through local specialty yarn and handicraft stores and markets. We think Bindareelan Wool is an exciting initiative tailored to meet the 21st century resurgence in interest in using natural, clean, sustainable fibres.

Bella

Bella

The future

Recently I attended a forum hosted as part of the National Farmers Federation (NFF) Blueprint for Australian Agriculture consultation process. At the end of the forum, we were asked to comment on our vision for Australian agriculture. My vision for Australian agriculture is:

Australian agriculture – a diverse, inclusive and coordinated industry that is economically and environmentally sustainable and valued by the whole community.

I saddens and disappoints me immensely that Australian agriculture is so fragmented. We need to be coordinated and to be coordinated we need to be inclusive. As an industry, its is pivotal we acknowledge the contribution of everyone in our industry regardless of their size, the role they play or the product they produce. On the other hand, in order to be valued by the community, we must tell our story, we need to be innovative in our farming practices, we need to be committed to best-practice farming techniques and strive for continuous improvement. Most importantly though, we need to know who our customers are, engage with them so that we can understand their needs and provide a range of products that meet those needs.

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wool products

The reality of a diverse and competitive job market means that at the moment our industry in the main attracts those with a passion based on their upbringing and background or a connection with some awesome childhood experience that has aroused their curiosity about career opportunities in agriculture.  Whilst it will certainly help this dilemma won’t disappear if agriculture or primary industries are included in the primary school curriculum or as elective units in the high school curriculum. This is part of the answer, it is not the solution. We should also focus on providing information and resources for teachers to use and promote agriculture and farming as a context for learning across all curriculum areas. But in order for the whole community to value Australian agriculture, everyone, not just students or children, need to have ongoing access to a range of opportunities to engage in and learn about agriculture. As farmers and producers we need to tell our story.

The big idea

My years of experience in this area tells me the best way to engage the Australian community with agriculture and farming is through food. And there is no doubt that modern consumers want to know as much as possible about what they eat. In particular, where it comes from, how it is produced, what standards apply, the transport methods used and the costs associated with producing the food. Let’s expand the ‘paddock to plate’ concept and include the farming story by being part of the cooking show revolution or partner with some of our leading chefs and restaurants. Most importantly though, we shouldn’t rely on small organisations or well-meaning individuals to Champion the cause – let’s all get behind it together. After all, if you want to eat, you need farmers, and when the whole community understands and values where their food comes from, we will be able to encourage a wider range of participation in agriculture as a career.

Patting Paddock

 Patting Paddock

I want to be part of the future for Australian agriculture and, as a mother I want my daughters to value their rural heritage and participate in taking this vital industry forward. We live in exciting and challenging times. The global population is increasing rapidly and Australia can continue to contribute to feeding that population in sustainable and innovative ways through the efforts of passionate and enthusiastic young people in agriculture.

6 thoughts on “The yarn so far……

  1. My goodness Kathleen, how busy are you! Your kids must have such a wonderful learning journey through it all. And I saw the sheep cupcakes doing the rounds on Twitter, now I know where they came from! Hat’s off to you.

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