Conversations of Change

Today my post is going to feature an amazing young woman who is doing agriculture #soproud (excuse the hash tag its a tribute to twitter which has introduced me to whole new cohort of great thinkers that surround and support agriculture right across the nation).

Hello world meet Stephanie Tarlinton

Steph and her parents

Stephanie with her #soproud parents at the recent Dairy Research Foundation Symposium where the audience voted her their favourite speaker.

Today I will be sharing that speech with you but you had to be in the room to understand how powerful it was and wow it was a powerful performance.

Art4agriculuture is also #soproud of Stephanie Tarlinton. She is a graduate from our Young Farming Champions program in 2011 and now a Young Farming Champions’ Ambassador

I first saw Stephanie in a photo and I saw something special and the search began to find out who that girl was.

A little bit of background. In 2004 I was given the task by the RAS of NSW Cattle Council to come up with some ideas to reinvigorate the dairy cattle events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and if I was going to pull that off successfully I needed to do some serious sponsorship seeking. The obvious first choice here was Semex who are a major sponsor of dairy cattle shows right across the world. So I arranged a meeting with Jim Conroy who heads up Semex Australia. Now Jim is a pretty special man himself and is very committed to investing in youth in the dairy industry.

Jim was on board but it came with one condition and oh boy did that turn out to be an Everest. Jim wanted the Dairy Youth Challenge event to be reinstated onto the dairy cattle calendar at the Sydney Royal Easter show. At the time I had no idea why this event was no longer running but when I told my husband Michael he said “only a mad person would take on that task”. As it turned out adult egos and personalities and politics had shut this event down and it was the Holstein Association of NSW I had to take on and nobody in their right mind did that in those days. Pleased to say those days are well and truly in the past.

So I went back to Jim with my problem and he said Lynne “this time round young people are going to run this event” and he gave me the name of a young woman who equally believes in her peers and she attacked it with gusto with me dodging the slings and arrows.  Anyway we pulled it off. Young people run it today and wow what an event they have turned it into.

6 Youth Challenge Winners NSW Semex team with Dr Neil Moss of Cows r US

This is a picture of the winners of the re-invented event in 2005 and that is Stephanie Tarlinton in the front row. BTW The young man beside Steph in the front row is Mr Cheese from MKR 2014

As it turned out it was to be six years before I met Stephanie at an RAS of NSW Council dinner when she was runner up in the 2011 RAS of NSW Royal Easter Show Showgirl Competition and I asked some-one to introduce us. I was fascinated by everything about her. It was quite obvious that this was a superstar waiting to happen. I invited her to join the inaugural 2011 Young Farming Champions program and was thrilled when she accepted.

So enough about the background this is what she  had to say last week

Slide1

Today I’d like to have a conversation with you,

But firstly so you know who you’re talking to, I’ll tell you a little about myself

I am

  • Firstly a proud dairy farmers daughter
  • The 2011 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Runner Up
  • An Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion
  • A National Junior Dairy Judging Final winner
  • A Woolworths Agricultural Business Scholar
  • A Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Rural Achiever
  • A NSW Holstein Youth Exchange Awardee

And a young women who has a degree in Agricultural Business Management, loves to travel and feels just as comfortable in a pair of high heels as I do in my gumboots

My story started growing up on my family’s dairy farm which is located on the far south coast of NSW just outside of the township, Cobargo. My family has a long association with the region and in particular the dairy industry.

I have the deepest respect for the humble dairy cow which has provided for my family and wider community over the last 148 years we have been dairying.

So you ask with five generations of dairy farmers behind me what is it exactly that I am going to talk to you about.

No it’s not the quickest way to move a strip graze fence nor is it the best way to dry out the inside of your gumboot when you misjudge the depth of the creek (however Mum’s good hair dryer can perform this task if she isn’t home)

Slide2

In fact the reason I am here today is to share my experiences of having conversations of change;

Conversations that inspire & engage.

Conversations which have the ability to empower another individual by sharing knowledge and experience.

Such conversations we all have the capacity to have as a way of connecting with those in the community who have not experienced a business/way of life, which is common to us all in room, dairying.

I’m referring to what is more commonly known as a way to help bridge the rural – urban divide.

The Bridge has been built however we need to open the pathway for consumers on either side to be able to connect with those involved in producing our food and fibre products.

With a considerable amount of Australia’s population living in urban centres, those classified as rural including the country’s farmers have an important role to play in reducing the separation between communities.

Engaging in a conversation with someone who has little knowledge of how their food moves from the farm gate to their plate has the potential to give them insights into the real story of modern agriculture.

Connecting with consumers on shared values increases the possibility of forming trust in farming and those whom participate in agricultural business.

Sharing personal stories allows consumers to gain insight and confidence in farming systems, ultimately building connections and breaking down barriers in society which further decreases the divide.

Members from either side of the divide consume food in order to survive and this is a fundamental feature of unity and mutual dependency. A simple discussion on the origin of a food product has the potential for rural person A to connect with urban person B to produce an outcome of greater understanding C.

A + B = C highlights the impact a single conversation can have if society will allow itself the simple pleasure to connect and challenge perceptions.

To quote Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world” reinforces the challenge that in order to create ways in which to build relations between the two sectors of society one must accept their role and be prepared to create opportunities for conversation.

For the agricultural sector to develop positive images and perceptions of farming practices and lifestyle, individuals who align themselves with this segment must be prepared to participate in the dialogue.

This is something that after hearing on numerous occasions the comment “oh you don’t look like a farm girl” I regularly seek out opportunities to participate in the dialogue others may see as a waste of time. As the quote behind me states I am the being the change I would like to see and that is having a greater number of consumers with an understanding of just who is putting the milk in their latte and the process it took to get it from the cow to the city cafe.

Slide3

One opportunity I recently had which allowed me to participate in conversations with next generation of consumers was through the Art4Agriculture Archibull Prize program as a Young Farming Champion. In September last year I made my way to a primary and then to a secondary school in Sydney which saw me become their face of farming.

A face which they were not expecting which was clearly indicated to me “oh so YOUR the farmer” with an intrigued look up and down at my business suit and heels, with a laptop and mobile phone in hand.

I see dairy farmers as business people who work in the food supply sector and although we spend time in gumboots they are what I call “tools of the trade” much like my heels I guess!

I took this role on as it allowed me to challenge the stereotype of farmers which is so often poorly portrayed in the media, and provided me with an opportunity to share my experience of growing up on the dairy with children who do not have such a luxury and to share the great story that is dairy.

I would now like to share with you one tool I used which has allowed me to engage in conversations;

This is a conversation I have not only shared with you here today and at my schools last year but it has also been shared with the rest of the world via YouTube, In fact my video has been viewed by over 1500 hundred people, an audience I would have not been able to reach with my messages if it had not been for my desire to connect with others in the community who have been labelled on the urban side of the divide.

I believe that challenging stereotypes through highlighting our connections has the ability to show that as people we both have a mutual dependency on food and therefore on one another as a producer and a consumer

I am proud to come from a dairy farm, to be a small town girl, a rural consumer and I see this as one of my greatest assets, I have firsthand knowledge and experiences of food production and therefore I have something to share through conversation with those whom are classed as being from the bright lights of the city.

Slide5

One girl who calls the bright lights of Sydney home is Year 7 student Sophia, standing second from the left in this photograph. I would now like to take a moment to read you an email I received from this young girl after being to her school

Dear Stephanie,

My name is Sophia and I met you when you visited our school. I am writing to you to tell you how inspiring and amazing your visit was.

My sister Olivia and I both attended your visit and it truly was a life changing experience. As we both live in a very suburban area we don’t get to see a lot of Australian Farmers. What was so incredible about your visit was that you taught our school that farmers are real people too. Your visit and video showed us just how important Australian Farmers are and just how much farmers are like us.

So I am writing to say Thank you. My family and I are originally from NZ however we moved here 5 years ago. I feel like I now understand that the foundation of Australia is made up of Farmers. You have really changed the way I think about farmers and I will now make it my mission to help spread the word, “Farmers are real people too” oh and that “farm girls love their shoes”

Regards Sophia

After reading this email I was touched at how my simple video which showed nothing more than my life on the farm, our girls aka the cows, a few pairs of shoes and some creative dance moves had the ability to inspire a young woman. I was touched at the response I received as for me I was just having a conversation about the everyday things that form life on our farm however for this particular girl my ordinary wasn’t so ordinary.

Slide6

I chose to share Sophia’s story with you as I believe it is an example of how it only takes a small conversation or connection to create big outcomes. For me knowing I had planted a seed in one person’s mind regarding the way she thought about farmers provided me with the greatest sense of satisfaction and determination to then tell others about my story and encourage them to tell theirs.

In my dealings with people in the agriculture sector I have often found farmers to be very humble people, my parents are a great example of this, however I challenge you all to be inspired by the words of William James –

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does”

I believe as dairy farmers we make a difference, everyday. Everyday there is fresh, safe healthy dairy products available to consumers which have all originated from the only true white gold, milk. It does make a difference to people’s lives that is because the nation’s dairy farmers got out of bed this morning that have food on their table, jobs to go to, communities to live in, someone to call a neighbour, a friend.

I am confident there are many other ways which you all make a positive difference to someone’s life simply due to your actions as a dairy Farmer.

As farmers if we would like others in the community to acknowledge this difference we make to their lives we must be prepared to share with them, to build trust by finding common values and to firstly acknowledge and be proud of the role we play.

I see no easier way to do this then by having a chat with someone. Whether its a taxi driver, the person next to you on the plane, the person at the supermarket checkout, your hairdresser, or your child’s teacher. Share with them your story, challenge the stereotype, leave them with notion that today they met someone who is PROUD to be a dairy farmer or working in the dairy industry.

Conversations provide a key to reducing the disconnect between the farmers who grow the food and the people who buy and consume it. By acquiring education from individuals like ourselves who have firsthand knowledge in agricultural fields, it will enable those divided by urban boundaries to have informed opinions and increased understandings of what it is exactly that you do.

Actively participating in the conversations is essential for progress to be made in reducing the disparity of knowledge because if we don’t take the initiative to stand up and tell our own story someone else will. And I personally know I’d rather tell my side of the story then have someone with extreme views or uninformed opinions reaching the consumer of a product I’m proud to say I produce.

Slide7

So I would now like to ask those in the audience who are proud to dairy to raise your hand…

Congratulations! I too, am proud to dairy, proud to be a part of a great industry and proud to have such a long family history associated with dairying.

I would now like to ask you all to have a conversation of change, to share your experience and wisdom

And remember every individual has the power to share knowledge regardless of which side of the classroom divide, they take a seat during story telling.

So I challenge you all to be the change we need to see to bridge the divide,

To seek opportunity to engage and educate,

Act as if what you do makes a difference as it does to the consumers of Australia

And finally

Be proud to Dairy, Always.

So in 140 characters “Stephanie stepped out in her black business shoes and her pink lipstick and wowed them with her #proud2dairy message” and she bought many in the audience to tears including me.

Farm Girls Wear Shoes too

Those shoes

This wont be the last time you will hear from Stephanie Tarlinton.

However shortly she is leaving our shores to spend some time with her good friend Leona Dargis in Canada and wont that be a daunting partnership. We hope to share some of this journey with you over the next two years

leona dargis-3

5 thoughts on “Conversations of Change

  1. Awesome speech Steph! I didnt realise until I read Lynne’s post that you were voted their favourite speaker…that is fantastic, congratulations!

  2. What an amazing speech! I got it in a tweet from Lynne in the middle of my mundane grocery shop! I couldn’t read it properly on the phone, so hurried home in the unseasonal pouring rain, unloaded groceries, shifted horses and cattle, and sat down in my soaking wet clothes to read. And I wasn’t disappointed, Steph you are a role model for both young and “older”. You are someone who inspires across generations. Now I am off to for a warm shower and dry clothes. I do look like a stereotypical farm girl, have soaking wet jeans, hair plastered down to my face and a soaking muddy jacket! But I also have a huge smile on my face because our dams are getting a top up in the middle of our usually long dry season, and because we have people like you sharing our stories. #soproud and #loud

  3. So proud of my beautiful big sister!! U never stop amazing me steph with all that u do,loved the speech,even Ur crazy dance moves inspire me!!! Canada u don’t know what’s about to hit u…..xxxx tiger n cowboy

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