City born with a country heart

 

Today I have great pleasure in introducing you to Rachel Walker who we are thrilled to have on board as one of  our Young Eco Champions

With the support of the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country program funding Art4Agriculture has recruited 5 exciting young women for the Young Eco Champion program for 2012/13

This program will train a team of 5 young natural resource management professionals from Southern Rivers region of NSW. This training will help them develop leadership and communication skills and become local faces of sustainable primary production and natural resource management.

The Eco Champions will work with our Young Farmer Champions to present Archibull Prize activities in 15 schools throughout the region using a range of authentic and contemporary learning tools that allow young people to explore the economic, environmental and social challenges of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation activities through the ‘Archibull Prize‘ competition.

This is Rachel’s story …….

My name is Rachel Walker, I’m 24 years old and currently in my final year of a Bachelor of Environmental Systems (Agriculture stream) at the University of Sydney.

I was born and raised in Sydney, but agriculture has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even though I grew up in the city, it’s hard to deny that I’m a country girl at heart.

My first taste of farm life was through my grandparents who built an equestrian centre and also ran beef cattle south west of Sydney, where I spent a lot of time growing up. I have always enjoyed the hands-on side of farming. It doesn’t matter whether it is easy or messy and dirty work, I’ve always found days working out in the sun to be exciting! I started taking horse riding seriously when I was about 13, competing in dressage and being on the local club committee, where I stayed until I moved into the city to study when I was around 21. Going to a city school meant that studying Agriculture wasn’t an option for me, but that didn’t really stop me from spending a majority of my time out on the farm.

One thing that stands out in my mind when I think of both of my grandfathers is how hard they worked. My maternal grandfather was an apple grower in Victoria and I often walk past the weathered, broken archway in Sydney’s old fruit market where his name is still painted.

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My first Pony (1992)

A life filled with opportunities

In 2006 I went to live in Ghana, West Africa for 4 months, teaching in a local school and living with a family in a village where subsistence farming is the common lifestyle and trade is the form of diversity in diet. Nothing is wasted, nothing is wrapped in plastic or refrigerated; they eat what’s seasonally available, and when it’s available and still have a great diversity in their diet – such an enormous contrast to the average Australian!!! This was a big turning point in my life, as it made me aware of natural resource use. From this point forward, I have looked at everything else with Ghana’s influence in the back of my mind. This was my self-induced introduction into natural resource management, and subsequently natural resource management has been in my mind wherever I’ve gone since.

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My wonderful host family and village friends in Ghana (2006).

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Ghana (2006)

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Paga, Ghana: where the crocs and the humans live side by side.

I am generally the kind of person to take advantage of an opportunity that arises, and I have really enjoyed the diversity that I’ve been able to experience. Some of my fondest summers have been spent out in the searing heat of the Araluen valley in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, which had a population of 215, picking peaches and nectarines. I love the Australian countryside and the southern coast of NSW would have to be my favourite area (so far!). Not only did I make some if my best friends in the ‘Happy Valley’, I learnt a lot about horticulture that I had never really experienced before. After that, I returned for the picking season 3 times! This was my introduction to the processes and numbers of food production, and this gave me insight into the food chain from growth to consumption.

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Picking peaches in Araluen (2007/8).

My love for animals led me to pursue a career in veterinary nursing, which I absolutely loved and still do on a part-time basis today. I left vet nursing because I realised that I wanted to be more involved in Agriculture. I wanted to challenge myself a little more and further my knowledge, so I enrolled at Sydney Uni. There were two options for me – B Agricultural Science, or a new degree called B Environmental Systems, which aimed to be the first degree of its kind to focus on the balance between food, energy and water – and they offered an agricultural pathway within the degree. Perfect for me!!! It combined my love for agriculture with the increasing needs for resource use efficiency and natural resource management that I had come to realise was so important to the future, to achieve a sustainable food and fibre production with sustainable environmental management!

My degree has given me the opportunity to look at the mutual relationship between agriculture as a business and a science, and the environmental side of things. I have had the opportunity to see many different parts of the east of Australia, as well as overseas, in both an agricultural and an environmental light.

More opportunities and inspiration

I am very interested in Agriculture in developing countries. In December 2011 to Feb 2012 I travelled to Uganda, in Eastern Africa to stay in a village where an Australian couple from country Victoria helped a Ugandan man (David) to start up a community development project in a small rural village. The rural people in Uganda aren’t very well catered for: and all produce is through subsistence farming, and is traded. It was an amazing experience. I was so inspired by David’s passion, enthusiasm and modesty about what the programme was achieving in a sustainable way! It has empowered the local people through programmes to develop the agricultural potential of the land and the people so as to increase production and create an economy, which allows the locals to have money if required for medical treatment or children’s education.

They have taught people to grow mushrooms and mulch; to use goat and cow manure as fertilizers; and also started a piggery project, which works on a pay-it-forward scheme so the community can benefit from easily cared for pigs. From the success and international support, they have added a medical centre that has visitors who walk 8km to visit, and computer classes with visiting children from 25km away, so that children form rural areas are able to gain some skills that bridge the gap between rural and city kids going to uni.

We talked so much about agriculture over there, and it is amazing to see how much we take for granted in what we are able to achieve in this country!

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Local Football game, Uganda (2012)

From this, my friend Hannah, who I travelled with, and I are currently organising a fundraising event in order to raise enough money to begin a goat rearing business, which will enable the community project to be completely self sustainable, and provide an income that will be able to support new ideas and projects in the future.

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My classmates and I in New Zealand looking at Agriculture and the Environment

Over the course of my studies, I have learnt so much about the science behind the various streams that Agriculture  may be broken up into – and it is huge! This has opened my eyes to the areas I want to learn more about! I know that my interests lie in cattle, though that in itself is a broad statement. I have also realised that I love learning and studying, in particular about the science behind soil and the relationships between soil, plants and water which are the essentials to sustainable production.

What concerns me

Living in the inner city has shown me there are so many aspects to Agriculture that aren’t recognised by the majority of the population. I believe that education about where food comes from and its journey to the consumer needs to be addressed, particularly in city areas where children may never get the opportunity to collect their own food. This is so important – to have future decision makers and scientists understand the processes behind their consumption – and a bottom-up approach in teaching young children through our primary education systems, which will filter through to their parents would be a great start. This is important for the lead up to more sustainable practices, such as the adaptation to eating food that has a ‘mark’ on it etc.

I believe that each country in the near future is going to reach a pinnacle point where the balance between Agricultural food and resource production is not going to meet the needs of the environment, nor a growing population.

There are so many different options for our future, and they are dependent upon us. Whether it involves an increase in production, a reduction of waste, or improving adaptation to variation in living conditions, changes toward sustainability should be a primary focus of the future. The collaboration of the various scientific fields to ensure a sustainable future that involves the least environmental impact possible is achievable and invaluable. I hope to see this throughout the world before the end of my life, and I hope that Australia leads the way, as we are doing with the increased protection and education of our Marine parks.

I am passionate about Agriculture: its potential, its ways of life and its diversity in opportunity are all something I strive to be a part of, and encourage others to do the same! Agriculture and the land will always be a part of my life even if I continue living within an urban environment…

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