Lets get back to our roots

Todays guest blog comes from Kristy Stewart whose family farms in the foothills of the Otway Ranges in Victoria

“It’s time to get back to our roots & realise the importance of agriculture to the people of Australia and by extension, the world”.

Australia is now the most urbanised country in the world and farmers and the people they feed and clothe are getting further and further apart. Its nobody’s fault its just the way Australian has evolved.

It saddens me that our culture has become almost detached from its umbilical cord to life?. For me connecting agriculture with the community is a priority, without one the other cannot exist. Often people look for the cheapest food options without reflecting on the commitment and care that goes into producing high quality nutritious Australian grown products and the consequences of buying imported goods produced with low cost labour and unsustainable farming practices.

On the other hand there is growing support for farmers markets in our cities and people are responding to the personal experience of buying direct from the grower. They place considerable value on being able to talk directly to the farmers and hear how the food was produced and where it comes from.

It is my hope that as an industry we can create a much greater and stronger connectivity between Agriculture and the community. A great way to do this is by creating more and more opportunities for personal connections (especially with the younger generation, primary and secondary age), education, art and music.

So a little bit about me…

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.L-R Michelle, me and Hannah (my big sisters)

Born and raised on a grazing and integrated agroforestry farm on the north-eastern foothills of the Otway ranges. Our farm is named ‘Yan Yan Gurt West’, after the Yan Yan Gurt Creek that flows through the property.

Otwaysmap

I’m a 5th generation farmer on our 580 acre property. I’ve loved the land since I can remember. Running around the farm on epic adventures with my two big sisters, following dad and mum around (probably hindering more than helping) with farm work are cherished childhood memories, I remember the first year I was old enough to work in the woolshed as a roustabout, my excitement was palpable!

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Me and my two big sisters Michelle and Hannah on our trusty old horse Shannon outside the woolshed

We’ve run both sheep and cattle (mostly sheep in my time). We have horses, alpacas, chickens, a pet magpie, ( mum’s a wildlife carer) as well as a vet nurse AND a farmer. I don’t know where she finds the time! She also train’s working dog’s.

My family has been involved in the WWOOF Organisation (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) since I was about 5 or 6 years old. Basically travellers can join this organisation and receive a book full of descriptions of different host farms around Australia, receiving board and keep, in exchange for helping out on the farm. It is a fantastic organisation and a great way to travel. Through this I have met many amazing young and enthusiastic people. It has taught me a lot about different cultures and left me with many lifelong friends who I hope to visit when I travel. The people that come and stay are interested and work hard, enjoying the experience of our culture and way of life on the farm. Every time a wwoofer comes to stay I realise how lucky I am to have the lifestyle that I do. Many don’t want to leave!

We run a prime lamb operation with first cross ewes, white Suffolk and poll dorset rams. I love all the aspects of running sheep on our farm, the big operations; lambing time, lamb marking, dagging, crutching and shearing are always guaranteed to be great fun, especially seeing the looks on the wwoofers faces when they first see a lamb being born!

Take a tour of the farm with dad

We apply sustainable farming practices to our farm operation. My dad (also has plethora of jobs to his name) conducts tours as part of the Otway Agroforestry Network (OAN) on integrated agroforestry farming systems, promoting the use of trees to make farming more environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding (In short, trees for both conservation and profit) to a wide audience

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Trees for conservation and profit

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Some of the OAN team leaders left to right: Andrew Stewart (my Dad), Mike Robinson-Koss, David Curry, Rowan Reid.

We love to share our story with the many visitors we host at the farm. From fellow farmers to the Minister for Agriculture

Mum and Dad being interviewed by Minister Tony Burke

To the leader of the greens party and visiting delegates from South America, China and Africa.

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L-R Kristy and Hannah Stewart; Christine Milne (Greens leader) in centre

The tours generally involve going around a variety of different farms in the district involved in the OAN. It is a fantastic network that encourages strong relationships of learning and growth between all types of farming people.

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The tours also encompass school groups, university classes and TAFE education groups

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Morning tea and a lecture in the shed by Rowan before taking off on a walk around the farm.

This is the kind of thing I hope to see spread throughout the Industry, bringing people onto farms to understand the challenges and constraints, connecting farmers with farmers to consult and learn from each other to improve their land management practices. I’ve seen the vast improvements and plethora of information and interest that people take away from these ‘farm tour days’.

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Me and my cousin Nick planting trees!

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This is a photo of my sister Hannah, taking a group of local primary school children on a tour of our farm, organised with our local Landcare network.

I think it is so important to get young primary school aged children out on the land so they can have a good understanding from a young age where there food comes from, how it grows and mist importantly have a connection with the land.

The farm tour was a huge success; Hannah devised fun activities such as bridge building competitions and many others. The kids came away from the day having had a great time getting muddy and creative, but at the same time they were learning the importance of looking after the land and understanding where their food comes from!

Currently we are looking into value adding, experimenting with Australian bush food and native cut flowers to create more revenue for the farm. My parents are constant sources of inspiration and strength for me, encouraging me to promote the Agricultural industry to the next generation, as a sustainable conservation aware industry full of opportunities for a fulfilling career.

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L-R Mike Edwards, Christine Milne(Greens Leader) Senator Richard Di Natale and Jill Stewart presenting Christine Milne with native farm grown flowers and bush tucker plants.

My sister and I were lucky enough to be two of 16 young women from around Australia to participate in the AWiA (Australian Women in Agriculture) leadership and decision making course in Canberra. A fantastic organisation raising the profile of Women and the next generation in Agriculture. For me it was a real eye opener, it was such an empowering thing to meet and network with other like-minded young people from around the country, this experience renewed my confidence and hope for the future of Agriculture in Australia. There are many supportive organisations out there for young people interested in Agriculture, this is one of them.

Currently I have just moved into my second year at university studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences. I still go back home on holidays for shearing and other big farm events!

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Our shearer attempting to teach me how to shear a lamb properly!

Once I’ve finished my degree I’d like to travel for a few years, perhaps doing some work in the industry overseas, visiting other cultures and seeing the way they care for the land. A trip to the Philippines visiting farms two years ago sparked off that particular interest. It is fascinating to see the way other cultures care for their country, I think we can a learn a lot from them and they in turn from us.

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Rice terrace farming in the Philippines

Eventually I think I would like to work as a sustainable farming systems consultant, especially for small scale farms as well as work in facilitating connections between country and city people. Also (of course!) run a farm of my own  (but who knows where I’ll be really, somewhere in the industry anyway!).

I see the problems that the Ag industry faces (increased population, less Agricultural land, soaring fossil fuel prices, conservation and sustainability concerns etc.) as exciting challenges to be taken up by the next generation.

Challenge drives innovation and the growth and diversification that will shape the future of our Agricultural in Australia. With the many bright young people involved in Agricultural, the industry has a positive future with much to offer.

The next step is getting more people (like you readers!) to be involved in the diverse career pathways agriculture encompasses. From finance, marketing & politics to farming the land, environmental work and scientific research. Or even just going out and visiting a farm, seeing how it works and what life is like out in the country.

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A shot of our farm

I believe that the Australian agricultural industry has huge potential to be one of the world leaders in taking significant steps towards conservation farming practices, increasing productivity, addressing food security and promoting environmentally sustainable management techniques and I look forward to being part of the growing movement of young farmers signing up to turn the challenges into opportunities.

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