Earlier this week our wonderful journalist profiled our newest Young Farming Champion, Ryan McParland. That post has provide to be one of our most popular ever
Today Ryan shares his personal story ……………
I grew up on a small dairy farm near Jamberoo, which turned into a commercial beef cattle enterprise as my parents left the dairy sector due to economic pressures of deregulation and urban encroachment in the early 2000s.
My entire family has been involved in the agricultural show movement for many generations and I had exposure to showing cattle and helping at our local Albion Park show from a very young age. My parents were also heavily involved in the local Rural Youth /Junior Farmers clubs, which ceased operation around 2006. In 2007, to keep me connected to the show movement, they bought me a trio of Rhode Island Reds, which led me to joining the Dapto Poultry Club. With the support of many mentors I have learnt about breeding and showing poultry and progressed through the young judges’ competitions. I am now president of the club.
“Four generations of our family have showed, so you can definitely say it is in my blood,”
I also shared the family passion for showing farm produce, which led to judging appointments. In 2016 I won the NSW Poultry Judging Championship and the NSW Fruit and Vegetable Judging Competition in the space of three days. I have a love of learning and judging and sharing this knowledge with others.
In 2013 I started a cadetship as a mechanical engineer with BlueScope Steel, studying at University of Wollongong. In that first year of employment I realised how important my agricultural and show background, as well as volunteer exposure, were to my engineering work ethic and success.
Conversely my work with the steelworks assists the show movement and the connection between agriculture and industry and with BlueScope’s support and sponsorship I kicked off the Illawarra Young Farmers Challenge in 2014, which has now run in some capacity for nine years.
In 2017, through my work, I took a 12-month study exchange to the University of Colorado, an experience rewarding for my studies and my own development – before I left I probably was considered still a young country boy, with not many road skills. Things have certainly changed!
While in America I attended State Fairs, Poultry and Cattle Shows and learnt about 4H and Young Farmer Programs. This inspired me, on my return home in 2018, to start a youth group of similar minded people who had an interest in agriculture and, in particular showing, and to see if we could resurrect a youth in ag group and keep the show movement alive.
We started the Albion Park Show Youth Group, which quickly expanded to include people from all over the south coast and in 2020 formed “The Ag Group – South Coast & Tablelands” covers show societies bounded by Milton to the south, Moss Vale to the west and Camden to the north.
Oh, boy – what a time to start a new movement – a combination of COVID and extreme weather events resulted in most shows being cancelled for three years.
But our journey has taken us from strength to strength with a lot of challenges and a lot of doubters and I have realised the biggest challenge can be managing people. I have been able to identify the challenges of engaging and motivating youth volunteers for the agricultural show movement and with this knowledge I have confidence we can bolster volunteer numbers in all agricultural shows.
My leadership journey has taught me I too need to role model best practice
I recently chaired a meeting where I had to stop myself from blocking an idea from a new member. I regained my thoughts and was able to channel their energy and direct their idea into something that they can own and still meet the club’s requirements. We have to remind ourselves someone fresh on a committee is not going to know the history of the club/society, pre-context, what has been tried before, etc., BUT they can offer a fresh perspective, enthusiasm and energy. As a snr or experienced person in a committee, you have to take it on yourself to guide, to use open ended questions, explain the past, and self-reflect to make sure the reason you may disagree is in the club best interest not your own.
My motivation for continuing this work is to promote positive perceptions of the rural sector and of rural volunteering and to learn to work with and influence others for the benefit of all.