Mini-Me: How Paddock Pen Pals is creating junior Young Farming Champions

Three years ago teacher Zoe Stephens and Action4Agriculture program director Lynne Strong  introduced a new way of connecting school students with young professionals working in agriculture. Called Paddock Pen Pals the program utilised online audio and web conferencing to beam Young Farming Champions (YFC) directly into the classroom.

Paddock Pen Pals was launched at Sydney’s Carlingford West Public School, a large inner-west primary school with a high percentage of English-second-language students, where 300 Year 6 students gained insights into sheep and the wool supply chain from YFCs Danila Marini, Dione Howard, Sam Wan and Chloe Dutschke.

At the time Zoe Stephens was a teacher at Carlingford West:

“Many of my students have little time outside and have never visited a farm. In order to make their learning relevant, I wanted to connect them to real farmers to share what they have learnt and see what real farms are actually doing in Australia.”

Paddock Pen Pals has been an enormous success, particularly as COVID curtailed excursions and face-to-face interactions. It has involved a range of Young Farming Champions across diverse sectors of agriculture and inspired students from a diverse range of schools. Relationships forged in 2019 continue with Carlingford West Public School participating again this year.

Our relationship with Zoe Stephens has also continued. Zoe now delivers teaching and learning programs for the City Country Alliance of Schools and has recommended Paddock Pen Pals to 60 new schools. She has even written a Paddock Pen Pals Best Practice manual for teachers just as Young Farming Champion Emily May has written a manual for fellow YFC.

Recently Action4Agriculture  program director Lynne Strong introduced Zoe to A4A’s long-term friend and fellow farm blogger Alison Rutledge. Prior to her daughters starting school, Alison created KT’s Farm Life to connect young people in the city to the paddock through the eyes of her then 4 year old daughter

Since Alison’s daughters started school Alison has been coordinating kitchen gardening at St Raphael’s Catholic School at Cowra, in central-west New South Wales.

Keen to support Zoe’s work connecting country and city schools Alison devised Paddock Pen Pals with a twist. Influenced by our Young Farming Champions she asked her own daughters – Kaitlyn (KT) now 15 and Erin now 10 to create a video showing life on their farm with their 3000 sheep, 200 cows, 13 chooks and working dogs, showing typical activities such bottle-feeding poddy lambs, hay-feeding cattle and delivering new-born calves.

You can catch Kaitlyn and Erin’s wonderful version of Paddock Pen Pals here.

Beautiful new friendships are now being developed on the back of the video as students from different schools swap letters and share stories; a lasting legacy of the Paddock Pen Pals program and the Young Farming Champions who have inspired Mini-Mes.


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