In 2018 Young Farming Champion (YFC) Emma Ayliffe stood before a classroom of excited Sydney students participating in The Archibull Prize to talk about moisture probes and data collection in the cotton industry. But Emma was not anywhere near Sydney. Instead she was standing in a paddock of cotton stubble and it was the power of technology that allowed her to beam live into the classroom.
In Wilcannia YFC Bessie Thomas’ three year old daughter was receiving letters from students at Hamilton North Public School and the Action4Agriculture team was keen to build on the opportunity to offer schools the chance to connect with young people working in agriculture in innovative ways
With Emma’s session being an immediate success we realised the model could be replicated and scaled as Paddock Pen Pals. Paddock Pen Pals launched in 2019 at Carlingford West Public School in Sydney and, under the tutelage of teacher Zoe Stephens, 300 Year 6 students gained a first-hand look at the wool industry.
Four years down the track and Zoe and Carlingford West continue to rely on Paddock Pen Pals to give students a real-world agricultural insight and to prepare them to be global citizens. With international migration happening on a larger scale than ever and with Carlingford West having a high percentage of English as a second language students, cultural demographics are changing in the classroom. This demands new educational responses in a world where diversity is the norm.
Building relationships with young farmers offers students an opportunity for exchange of ideas and collaboration. The Paddock Pen Pals program is coordinated by Young Farming Champions’ Leadership Team member Emily May. in the recent round of Paddock Pen Pals at Carlingford West six Young Farming Champions engaged students with wool and horticulture.
Promoting wool were veterinarian Dione Fitzgerald, animal welfare researcher Danila Marini, sheep grazier Katherine Bain and sustainable agriculture project officer Katie Barnett.
“Participating in the Paddock Pen Pals program is always a valuable and enjoyable experience. It’s an opportunity to introduce students to the industry I love and just how much good is going on around them. The students are always so engaging and ask some of the greatest questions that I have ever received,” Danila says.
Danila’s presentation to the students can be viewed here.
Katherine was able to give students a look at a working sheep property and was also warmed by their interest.
“The kids asked some really good questions, especially about sheep welfare and working with the dogs,” she says.
Representing horticulture were DPI industry development officer Jessica Fearnley and researcher Steph Tabone.
Jess was able to relate agriculture to the students’ own lives.
“We discussed how trees can be looked after for best performance in a backyard and what the supply chain of horticultural industries looks like. It was a great opportunity to shed some light on the different processes in agriculture and how many steps there are to get from paddock to plate,” she says.
Paddock Pen Pals has morphed over the years as the Young Farming Champions refine their delivery and presentations using skills acquired in their own YFC training.
“I think we’ve got the format down pat with being able to see the classroom so that we can ask questions and see the hands go up, and with students coming up to the microphone and camera to ask questions. We were ahead of our time doing this in 2019 and it is great to continue to be part of this program,” Dione adds.
For Zoe Stephens, who has advocated for the program not only at Carlingford West but through her work with City Country Alliance of Schools, Paddock Pen Pals continues to be a rewarding experience.
“I want thank all the Young Farming Champions for helping to create another successful experience for our year 6 students. The students were all highly engaged, ready to ask questions and take copious notes. We all learnt so much. The YFC really are champions to give their time to inspire and inform these young minds. Their passion and commitment to sustainable and new innovative farming techniques is so exciting to see.”
Zoe has seen Paddock Pen Pals transform from simple beginnings to today’s highly detailed and interactive presentations, which can run multiple sessions simultaneously.
And the transformation has been recognised further this week with the release of the book “Primary Science Education – A Teacher’s Toolkit” by Anne Forbes.
“The innovative Paddock Pen Pals program was used to focus students’ attention on the sustainable production of food and fibre … [giving students] experiences of real-life experts.” Anne writes.
Action4Agriculture is delighted with Paddock Pen Pals continued success and the international exposure it will receive as part of Anne’s book.