The world needs creative, innovative and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see.
Exciting news. Action4Agriculture has our first international Young Farming Champion. Today we share with you Morgan Bell’s story. Morgan works for Corteva Agriscience in their New Zealand team where she is their Western North Island Territory Manager.
I grew up with little knowledge about the agricultural industry. I grew up in town with my mum working as a travel agent and my dad as a builder. My first introduction into agriculture wasn’t until year 9 at high school, where I started going hunting with a friend. The farm where we hunted on, we would have to help work on during the day. This is when I really fell in love with farming and started to learn more about the industry.
I decided to join our Teen Ag club at school and changed art to gateway where I would get to spend every Monday out working on a farm learning new skills. Our class was really small with only 5 students in it. Mondays were the day I looked forward to the most, I couldn’t get enough of spending time outside and around the animals. I attended an all girls school and by the time I got to year 11 there weren’t enough students interested in taking agriculture to keep the class going, so I did it extramurally.
Every weekend and school holidays I began working on a dairy farm as work experience. I decided to go to Massey University to complete my Bachelor in Agriculture Science. My time at university was easily the best years of my life so far. Getting to meet so many amazing and driven individuals and hear their stories of why they are wanting to go into agriculture and the challenges that they face. Every day we got to learn new things and be given so many opportunities.
University semester breaks I worked on dairy farms, sheep and beef farms and a deer farm. I wanted to experience as many different farming systems as I could. Following university, I started my current role with Corteva Agriscience as a territory sales manager for Western North Island of New Zealand. Three years in and I have learnt so much and had the opportunity to work with so many amazing and inspiration people. Every day there are new opportunities and challenges to keep me on my toes.
One thing I would love to change is for young people to have access to see all the amazing opportunities out there in the primary industries. Especially coming from an urban background, it would be great to be able to showcase the variety of pathways and jobs in our industry. I think it’s important for people to realize they don’t have to be born into agriculture to help make a difference in the future.
Sustainable agriculture and farming are important to New Zealand. I find it very rewarding to be able to support farmers to understand the regulations for chemicals, fertilisers, and product requirements used in agriculture. New Zealanders are very proud to have a world wide reputation for being committed to a economically and environmentally sound business model that allows farmers to work closer with nature.
Here is a picture of Morgan with some ginormous thistles
Did you know – Weeds aren’t all bad news – they can tell you a lot about your soil too.
Capeweed and Stinging Nettles are signs of nutrient-rich, cultivated soil. If the growth is stunted or leaves are yellow, it would show the soil is lacking in nitrogen.
Thistles, chickweed and purslane also indicate fertility. Source
Action4Agriculture has selected 10 passionate agriculturists (including our first international contingent) to join our 2022 Cultivate – Growing Young Leaders program
Today we are sharing Ani Dilanchian’s story. Ani adds to the diversity of young Australians not from a farming background choosing agriculture as a career who are committed to life long learning, building their networks and advocating for agriculture
Growing up in Sydney I had very little exposure to the agriculture industry. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was offered as an elective at schools. My first introduction to agriculture came when I made the move to Barker College in year 10 and was able to study it as an elective in my final years of school. With an equestrian background, I travelled throughout NSW to compete in shows from a young age and felt my passion for riding helped foster an interest in studying agriculture, and I quickly went on to develop a strong interest in the industry.
After finishing school, I went on to study a Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness at the University of Sydney, where I was exposed to many different areas of the industry from both a business and science perspective. During my degree I attended several field trips, practical sessions and an industry internship, including travelling to Indonesia to research the sustainability of the palm oil industry.
Palm Oil Plantation in Indonesia
This trip changed my view of the industry and its importance both locally and internationally, and I became increasingly aware of how my initial perception as a consumer was heavily influenced by how it was portrayed in the media. This realization cemented the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships between the industry and community. This is something that I believe is very relevant in the Australian agriculture industry and one I feel my generation can positively contribute towards.
After graduating from university, I spent a year working in the fresh produce industry at a time when the labour shortages were extremely prevalent. The severity and impact of these shortages on growers was evident, with roll-on effects to the consumers. However, I noticed a sense of disconnect and unawareness from consumers concerning the challenges within the industry. There is an opportunity for my generation to contribute towards improving awareness of the complexities and challenges from paddock to plate, and fostering meaningful communication between the industry and community to work towards strengthening the sustainability and resilience of the agriculture sector.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness
Having a passion and interest in sustainability within the agriculture industry, my current role with Corteva Agriscience is allowing me to gain knowledge and exposure across different areas in addition to being a part of a company committed to advancing the sustainability of the industry.
As someone who grew up in the city and wasn’t exposed to the agriculture industry until late into my schooling, I feel it’s important to encourage other young people to consider a career in the industry regardless of whether they have a background in farming. This industry offers a diverse range of career opportunities with many located in urban areas, a point that was very influential in my decision to pursue a career in agriculture, and hopefully leads others to consider joining the agriculture industry as well.
Catch Ani and some of her fellow Barker alumni being interviewed by the winner of the Prime Minster’s Prize for Secondary Science teaching Scott Graham
We are looking forward to going on Ani’s journey with her
One of the foundational aims of Young Farming Champions is to tell the positive stories of Australian agriculture; to share experiences and truths beyond industry; to engage and connect with those in the wider community. In the last few months our Young Farming Champions have excelled.
Leading from the front was Emma Ayliffe who is profiled in the current edition of RM Williams Outback magazine (and spruiked on the front cover). Read an excerpt of Em’s story here. In the same edition (143) Jess Fearnley featured as the winner of the RM Williams RAS Rural Achiever Award.
Every two years RM Williams publishes a special edition known as Great Australians that profiles quiet Australians doing amazing work in the bush. The 2022 edition, in newsagents now, features none other than our own Anika Molesworth. See the story here
Not to be outdone are Sam Wan and Katherine Bain who share their love for all things wool in the popular Graziher magazine. See some of the photos accompanying the story (out now!) here.
Biosecurity warrior and Young Farming Champion Lucy Collingridge loves her job at the forefront of protecting our economy, environment and community from pests, weeds and diseases.
In the literal field this winter has been agronomist Olivia Borden who is working with Northern Territory cotton crops. Olivia recently hosted a team of Australian cotton industry scientists as they explored whether the knowledge from a cotton production course designed for the south could be applied to the north. Scientists from the field trip concluded:
“Supporting the staff and farmers who are establishing cotton in the region is definitely worthy of our time and assistance. There is a hunger to see cotton succeed in the NT, a promise to undertake trials and to become more open in sharing their learnings. All of this is likely to result in a great future for cotton in the NT.”
Olivia is on the forefront of cotton production in the north and we look forward to future updates.
Staying with plants, and its congratulations to Steph Tabone who has started a new job as a horticultural researcher with Applied Horticultural Research.
“My role at AHR involves leading and contributing to key industry projects including the Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection project and the Potato Industry and Communication Extension project. The diversity of the role could see me organising farmer workshops and demonstrations in the field, reviewing global literature for new and relevant research, writing factsheets, facilitating a webinar with technical experts, and completing trials in a field and lab environment.
Steph also attended the ‘Hort Connections’ annual conference in Brisbane in June with AHR.
“It presented a great opportunity to meet new people, and of course reconnect with old friends in industry, and I attended a field tour, where we visited a high-tech greenhouse snacking tomato operation.”
“My career goal is to support farmers to sustainably produce high quality and safe food for our population. In this role I can work closely with farmers, which gives me greater clarity of their pain points, further enabling me to provide content that is of value to them. This is exciting because we have the potential to deliver innovative solutions that addresses some of our industry’s major challenges.”
Veronika Vicic, who is a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University, needs your help.
“I am in the final wrap up of my PhD and we are searching for consumers far and wide to help complete my study and eat some beef! If you are a club or association we can donate $300 for 20 participants or $1000 for 60 participants to attend a consumer tasting session. We are located in Wagga but can travel to outer regions if large groups are able to attend a session.”
For more details (or to book a long YFC lunch) see the flyer here .
Another PhD candidate, Franny Earp, is about to wing her way to London in July to take part in a film summer school held by UCL anthropology department.
“The school will focus on the practical, critical and theoretical skills required in making documentary and visual ethnography films and how to tell other peoples’ stories via visual resources. I am hoping to use visual ethnography as a data collection method for my PhD on female farmer empowerment in agricultural development programming and so the course will help expand and enhance my skills in the area.”
Encouraged by fellow YFC and shearer Tom Squires, who she mentored in the Cultivate -Growing Young Leaders program, Sam Wan extended her sheep and wool expertise by learning to shear with the Shearer Contractors Association of Australia’s (SCAA).
“I loved it. I loved that it was 5 days so parallel to my work in wool broking yet was still separate, that it challenged limits and ways of thinking and doing. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from highly experienced teachers, all shearers themselves, sharing the translated version of their learning into a system of steps to pinpoint a flow, reduce body strain and work with the sheep. It was great to understand how much pride they had in their work and care taken with the sheep, their gear and their clients. Alongside a mixed cohort that were clearly focused on being present, I got to set up combs and cutters, manoeuvre self and sheep angles and adjust grips to shear the full length of the fibre. The practical component of having access to equipment and sheep to shear was invaluable.”
As part of her job with AgCAREERSTART with the National Farmers’ Federation, Chloe Dutschke attended FarmFest in Toowoomba.
“It was so great to be in QLD to showcase AgCAREERSTART, made even better when friendly faces such as YFC Meg Rice came by my stall.”
Applications for 2023 AgCAREERSTART host farmers are open now and participants open July 12.
Out of the Field
The NSW Showgirl has been renamed to The Land Sydney Royal AgShows NSW Young Woman of the Year and Katie Barnett has been the recipient of the rebranded award for the Kempsey Show Society. Katie is looking forward to representing Kempsey and rural NSW in the year ahead and as an active member of her show society, welcomes the return of the agricultural show after a couple of tumultuous years.
“As a Kempsey Show Society Director and the Chief Cattle Steward it was great to be able to run a show and have our community come together after 2 years of cancellations due to Covid and floods. Despite the wet weather and mud (plus a few bogged vehicles) we had an awesome turnout and a large number of youth involved. Aren’t small towns the best!”
Speaking of agricultural shows here is a video made when Dione Howard (National Rural Ambassador) and Jess Fearnley (RM Williams RAS Rural Achiever) added some star power to the Orange Show:
“One of the highlights of my month was the attending the Orange (and Bathurst) shows. I love the local shows in my area so when I was able to volunteer for the Bathurst show and help steward in the horse ring and take over the social media account for the Orange show with the help of Dione it was great to get more involved,” Jess says.
Dione also caught up with another YFC when she and Lucy Collingridge (RM Williams RAS Rural Achiever finalist) attended the Global Food Forum 2022 in Melbourne on June 1, an opportunity provided by RAS of NSW.
“It was a very informative day with trends and insights from across food production, processing and sales. A major theme consistent across all areas of the supply chain was the labour shortage. Other key takeaways included how businesses have adapted/diversified following the pandemic, and how important it is to be taking ownership of telling our story using a values-based approach. Time to go over our YFC workshop notes with CFI!,” Dione says.
Dylan Male was invited by the ABC to attend the live audience of ‘Q+A’ to present his question “What are the strengths that Australia should leverage more to ensure we are the partner of choice for pacific nations? Where are we going wrong, and what can we do right?” to panellists including Monique Ryan Independent Member for Kooyong; Andrew Bragg Senator for NSW; Mehreen Faruqi Senator for NSW; Alexander Downer Former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister and Amanda Rishworth Federal Minister for Social Services.
Having previously lived in PNG and Solomon Islands, this was a topic close to Dylan’s heart.
“I felt thankful to the ABC for providing a platform for young Australians like me to have a voice and ask questions to our most senior politicians.”
Catch the episode on iView here.
After years of knocking on the door, Emma Ayliffe has been recognised with one of Cotton Australia’s most prestigious awards when she was named the ADAMA Chris Lehmann Trust ‘Young Cotton Achiever of the Year’ in June. Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay said that he was impressed with her new ideas and work ethic:
“Emma is showing how fresh ideas and hard work can benefit all the growers in her region and other regions. I am particularly impressed with Emma’s commitment to improving the social licence of cotton and that will have benefits for the country as more people hear how our cotton is among the world’s best in quality and sustainability.”
To Emma, the award is proof she is making a difference in the cotton industry.
“To make the final three is an achievement in itself so win it is amazing. Having the Chris Lehmann Trust and ADAMA support the ‘up and coming’ in such a way illustrates the vibrancy of the cotton industry. I can’t wait for cotton conference in August to be presented with my actual award and catch up with so many wonderful people.”
The Cultivate program equips participants with the skills to become highly visible public role models for agriculture. Training revolves around three pillars – leadership development, confident communicators and trusted voices – and is delivered by national and international experts through A4A’s Ecosystem of Expertise.
“The quality and talent within our three new Cultivate participants is extraordinary with each from different backgrounds and at different stages of their journey. We are looking forward to working with all three of them to further develop their skills and assist them to achieve their dreams.” Riverina LLS general manager Ray Willis said. “
Katharine, Kate and Sam work and study in the Riverina and have a passion for the area.
“I love the Riverina where agriculture is such an integral part of its identity. The people in the area have gone above and beyond to help me in my agricultural endeavours. The Riverina LLS Scholarship is life changing. It will allow me to have the confidence to share my voice and advocate for positive change in the industry and I am hoping that this program will allow me to grow into a young leader that the Riverina would be proud of,” Katharine said.
The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is supporting the Riverina LLS winners, in particular Sam, who has been awarded the River of Life scholarship to complete the program.
“We’re so pleased to support Sam to grow and share his knowledge of the values and challenges in the Murray–Darling Basin.
The Basin is home to 2.3 million Australians, internationally significant wetlands, over 40 First Nations, and 40% of Australia’s farms. Scholarships like this mean the importance of the Basin can be better understood by communities, and the management of future challenges better supported.” acting chief executive, Andrew Reynolds said.
Sam appreciates the support of both organisations and welcomes the chance to promote his region.
“Through the Cultivate program I hope to advocate for the Riverina as an attractive place to live and work and share the diversity of rewarding career opportunities in the agriculture sector. I would like to thank the Riverina LLS and the MDBA for the opportunity to be a part of this fantastic program and giving me the opportunity to partner with them to promote our agricultural region.” Sam said
Graduates of the Cultivate program become Young Farming Champions (YFC) who actively engage with school students to spread the good-news stories of agriculture.
“The agricultural industry is more extensive than people realise and through this scholarship I hope to make new connections and friendships and grow my networks to inspire the next generation to think outside the box and pursue careers they might not typically consider,” Kate said.
Young Farming Champions alumni also assist in the selection process for Cultivate participants and Ray Willis was impressed with their professionalism in the awarding of the Riverina LLS scholarships.
“The two key alumni YFC on the interview panel were amazing and demonstrate the value of the YFC program in developing young talent in confidence, eloquence and professionalism that is bespoke in a program like this. This is very rewarding for us as a program sponsor.” Ray Willis said
I grew up on a small mixed farm in the heart of the Riverina on the southern side of Temora. My two brothers and I would spend our weekends working on the farm with Dad, sowing grazing oats, picking up sticks and rocks, building fences and planting trees. From a very young age I was immersed in agriculture and exposed to the highs and lows that the lifestyle has to offer.
I grew up with the Millennium Drought and at its height we carted water for 18 months from town to the farm to replenish the tanks that supplied the house. The value of water was imprinted on me and has stuck with me through the course of my life.
After finishing school in Temora, I started my tertiary education at Charles Sturt University in Wagga. This was a fantastic opportunity to develop an understanding of the science behind agriculture and meet like-minded people entering the industry.
Water continued to play a large role in my life when I worked as an irrigation overseer during my university holidays. During the summer we experienced extreme heat and above average temperatures for the whole season. This dramatically increased the water demand on the crop and tightened the frequency of irrigations. This was an extremely valuable experience as I saw first-hand how challenging it can be to manage seasonality in an irrigated cropping system and how quickly a season can turn against you.
Irrigating during my summer university holidays. Despite what the beautiful sunset mighty depict, we faced many challenges supplying water to the crop in the hottest summer ever recorded in the district.
For the past two years I have been working as an irrigation agronomist in the Murrumbidgee valley where the boom-and-bust nature of agricultural is further amplified. When water is allocated we have the capacity to produce extremely profitable crops; during dry times we have a forced fallow period. Now, the drought had broken and water allocation reached 100% mid-way through the last season. This allowed growers to increase their production and produce some of the highest yielding winter crops on record in the area.
Irrigated Durum crop at Coleambally, in the 2021 harvest many growers achieved yields in excess of 10T/ha but faces extreme challenges in managing harvest logistics due to labour shortages.
During my short career I have seen how important water security and water use efficiency are to irrigation farmers and I see the biggest challenge for my generation is to manage an increasingly variable climate while increasing efficiencies and production to feed a growing global population. My aim is to continually improve water use efficiency and productivity on farm and help producers adapt to the variability in the climate. This will come through a variety of improvements to on farm water delivery systems, plant genetics and improved soil management practices.
Alongside the challenges of climate change, we are currently experiencing some of the worst labour shortages the industry has ever seen, with demand for workers exceeding boots on the ground.
It has been particularly challenging over the past two seasons where we have had two of the best winter cropping seasons, but we haven’t been able to capitalise on the season due to labour short falls.
Cotton Crop ready to be picked.
I am passionate about solving this issue.
Being a Young Farming Champion will build my ability to grow my networks and talk to people everywhere I go to promote the agricultural industry to attract skilled and unskilled labour to fill these gaps in the industry. Agriculture is an extremely rewarding industry to be a part of and I look forward to communicating this message far and wide to attract the best and brightest people; people who will help solve the big challenges in front of us.
“As a school, we haven’t previously looked at the Sustainability Goals so we are looking forward to raising the profile of these across our community.”
Today we share with you the motivation behind Scots All Saints College at Bathurst Kreative Koala’s journey
“Platypus numbers in the nearby Macquarie River and Winburndale Rivulet are on the decline. We want to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of local ecosystems, manage forests, halt and reverse land degradation and conserve water/ manage stream flows to ensure that platypus numbers remain viable.”
Scots All Saints College at Bathurst have opened up Kreative Koalas to all their Stage 3 students who are passionate about sustainability and environmental issues and are keen to make a difference in their community.
The school is utilising and developing the skills in this group to complete various aspects of the project. By making a positive contribution to this local and national issue they hope to develop a positive sense of well-being amongst the group.
They have embedded the project into their Year 5 curriculum and are using it as an extra-curricular activity for Stage 3.
They will involve the wider school community to help them with data collection for their platypus survey and support for implementation of their Community Action Plan.
Learn more about Kreative Koalas and how it works here
We recently launched the Riverina Local Land Services scholarships to find latest round of Young Farming Champions. As part of the application process we invite the finalists to share their story. Today we a delighted to introduce you to Katharine Charles who sees working in agriculture as an opportunity to work with others to solve the world’s wicked problems.
I want to prove to the world that you don’t need to have a farming background to make a mark in the agricultural industry; just a strong passion and a hunger to leave this world a better place than you found it. Katharine Charles
This is Katharine’s story …….
When I was introduced to the school farm on my first day of high school, I had no idea how much it was going to change my life. Growing up on the Central Coast, my exposure to the agricultural industry had been very limited, and I barely even knew what the word ‘agriculture’ meant. But as I was given a tour of the school, I stopped to watch the older students parading cattle around the school farm. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I remember thinking, “I really want to be a part of that”. That moment marked the beginning of my deep dive into the agricultural world.
“Showing cattle at the Sydney Royal Easter Show”
From my first agriculture lesson in Year 7, to my last day of schooling in Year 12, I dedicated every spare moment to the school farm. All my school lunch breaks, holidays and weekends were spent either feeding animals, working with the cattle, or doing other farm tasks. The highlight of my school years was attending agricultural shows with the school cattle team. I enjoyed preparing the cattle for showing, competing in judging and parading events, and mentoring the younger students.
“Showing cattle with the school cattle team at Gosford Show, 2013”
Since leaving high school, I have pursued every opportunity to increase my knowledge and practical experience in the agricultural industry. I spent my gap year working and travelling, in which I volunteered on a dairy farm in Ireland. I then moved to Wagga Wagga to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University (CSU). My willingness to learn pushed me to apply for a student internship position, and I spent my spare time assisting CSU lecturers with their research projects.
During university, I was exposed to what are called ‘wicked issues’. These are complex challenges in which there is little or no agreement on the definition, cause, or solution to a problem. Some examples include climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and feeding our rapidly growing population. As a young person coming into the agricultural industry, these challenges felt insurmountable at first; but I have now realised that the learning journey I have been on means I am perfectly placed to work with others to play a role in addressing these issues, and I am excited to make some real, positive change.
I believe that the new generation of young leaders in the agricultural industry will play an integral role in promoting a more sustainable, robust, and resilient agricultural industry. I want to help empower and encourage other young people in agriculture to share their voice and take action to create a better world. With small, sustained steps even the most complex of agricultural issues can be addressed.
I want to utilise my strong passion for agriculture to drive change and to encourage more young people into the industry. I want to prove to the world that you don’t need to have a farming background to make a mark in the agricultural industry; just a strong passion and a hunger to leave this world a better place than you found it.
We recently launched the Riverina Local Land Services scholarships to find the latest round of Young Farming Champions. As part of the application process we invite the finalists to share their story. Today we a delighted to introduce you to Kate Webster who is also writing stories for next gen
Sometimes our passions and careers take a direction we never expected. Growing up on a small property outside of Orange NSW, I always had a passion for animals. As a child I would take any opportunity I could to help on the farm and it was during this time that I made the decision I wanted a career with livestock, emphasis on the “live”.
But I never imagined ending up where I have, beyond the farm gate, in the meat processing world.
In 2016 I headed off to university, I was eager for knowledge and gave everything a shot that university threw at me. In my second year of university, I decided to join the Charles Sturt University’s Meat Judging Team. Why? Because it sounded like fun! And little did I know that this carefree decision would change the course of not only the rest of my degree, but my life. The ICMJ competition opened my eyes to a completely different side of Agriculture. I rapidly discovered that production doesn’t end at the farm gate and that there are so many additional processes involved in getting the product from paddock to plate. It was at this time I fell in love with everything meat!
Kate and her meat judging team in 2017
The next few years passed by in a whirlwind as life often does, I went from competing in the CSU meat judging team, to coaching it and then onto coaching the Paskistani national team. I was selected to complete my certificate III and IV in meat safety inspection which led to my first industry job, on the knives in a beef export plant as a meat inspector. I chose any electives I could that were meat related and then I travelled to Texas Tech University for an internship in their meat science department where I completed my honours. But then it stopped! Everything stopped, I handed in my honours dissertation and a week later the nation went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was on the knives still working my typical 9 to 5, or more correctly my 6 to 3, and in a rut.
I knew I wanted more in my career but given the state of the nation, drastic career changes weren’t really an option, especially as an inexperienced new grad. So, I realised I had to make an opportunity for myself, and it was at this time I began to write my first children’s book, titled “What is Meat?”.
Kate and her first children’s book “What is Meat”
I have always had a passion for working with children and in particular children’s education. When I first moved to Wagga Wagga I joined the local show society, in my second year on the committee I proposed the addition of a children’s agricultural education section to the Wagga Wagga show. The section was a success, we developed a farmyard out of ply board where kids could collect plastic eggs, dig for potatoes, and milk a fake cow. We ran cardboard box tractor races and had an extensive, interactive farm tool and equipment display. But it was here that I discovered the disconnect between children and where their food comes from. I started to do some research and the more I looked into it the scarier it got; children genuinely had no idea where their was food coming from! This triggered the initial idea behind my soon to be book series of four, which will follow the production of meat, milk, eggs, and wool from producer to consumer and all the steps in between.
Kate in her current job, with MINTRAC, at a student career expo
Three years on and my first book is now a reality, I am working with teachers to create activity packs for use in the classroom and my second book is on the way. I also made the career shift I was searching for, into the National Meat Industry Training and Advisory Council. My job now encapsulates two of the things I love most meat production and education with people of all ages.
It is up to us as the new generation to paint agriculture in a positive light and spark the interest we have all found on our own paths into the wider community and in particular drive the generations coming up behind us to seek out their own passions in agriculture.
Action4Agriculture’s primary school program Kreative Koalas allows us to connect with a diverse and inspirational range of environmental ambassadors, a perfect example of this is Wingecarribee Shire Council’s coordinator of Sustainability Services, Cecilia Kemp. Cecilia works with our Kreative Koala schools in the NSW Southern Highlands and is producing a suite of programs to showcase sustainability to both students and their communities.
Cecilia’s story begins in Sweden with chapters in Switzerland, Scotland and England before her eventual move to Australia in 2003, and it was the early days that influenced her to strive for a sustainable world.
“Swedish culture is strongly aligned with the natural environment and it is deeply ingrained in us and our folklore. It was normal for us to spend time out in nature but one of the things that really triggered my interest was a German teacher at my international school in Switzerland. While teaching us the German language she would always use quotes and texts from environmental sources. Her daughter worked for Greenpeace and, as an early teen, I thought that was the kind of job for me.
“I’ve always been fascinated by injustice and I think a lot of what I do is deeply rooted in that. I was the annoying kid who spoke up when she saw something wrong and said ‘we shouldn’t be doing that’ and it’s evolved into an adult passion where I like to bring issues to the public attention – things we can do better.”
With a Bachelor of Environmental Science from the University of Edinburgh and a Masters in Engineering Studies (focussed on power generation and climate change) from the University of Sydney, Cecilia’s career has seen her champion sustainability with everyone from Clean Up Australia, to state government and local councils. In 2019 she took on her current role with Wingecarribee Shire Council.
One of her initial tasks was to overhaul the annual School’s Environment Day, which at the time “involved 600 students and was bigger than Ben Hur.” Cecilia reimagined the day as one of immersive activities and adventure learning for a smaller number of students to be held in the bush at Camp Wombaroo. The first School’s Environment Day in the new format will be run in May catering for 200 students, with the second to be held later in the year allowing 200 more local students to participate.
Another initiative under Cecilia’s direction is Sustainable Us, designed as a community engagement project to address impact on the environment and actions that can be taken to mitigate climate change.
The project includes a series of 12 videos and will feature Hilltop Public School, who broke new ground in 2021 by using Kreative Koalas as a catalyst to report on education for sustainability.
Hilltop is a tiny community but every community in the world will be affected by climate change and these kids had already produced a video to highlight it in the context of their own space, and they’re sharing these stories with their parents and grandparents and community members. What they are doing is fantastic and we will feature them in the Sustainable Us episode about community to illustrate how we can come together and make a big difference,” Cecilia says.
Watch the first video in the Sustainable US series here
Alongside the School’s Environment Day and Sustainable Us, Southern Highland’s schools, including Kreative Koalas participant Robertson Public School, benefit in other ways from Cecilia’s proactive approach.
“We send newsletters to all the schools in the Shire at the start of every term, flagging the resources that we have available to help teach a sustainable lifestyle. We offer workshops, and presentations on the local water cycle and the local impacts of climate change, run recycled art competitions and we were the first regional council to offer the Solar My School program to schools.”
“There is no silver bullet to address our environmental impact but its important people know that switching off the lights when you leave a room is just as powerful as buying a Tesla. Nobody should feel excluded based on their financial or physical ability. It’s just a case of being a bit more resourceful with what we have.”
When it comes to being resourceful Cecilia and her team are well ahead of the curve, and the benefits to our Kreative Koalas schools will be endless. We look forward to continuing and building this association for years to come and congratulate Wingecarribee Shire Council on its initiatives that educate and inspire us all to lead a better life for our planet.
The SDG are a suite of 17 actionable targets described by the United Nations as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Kreative Koalas provides the opportunity for students to be part of a team that takes a deep dive into ideas and solutions and empowers them to act as future decision makers for the planet.
Using art to stimulate design, creativity, teamwork and project development the program gifts each school with a life-sized fibreglass koala on which to express their sustainability theme. The students are connected with a diverse range of local sustainability experts from Indigenous elders to government agencies and together create a community action project.
In 2020 St Brigid’s Primary School at Raymond Terrace participated in Kreative Koalas by looking at SDG 15: Life on Land. Students researched 12 endangered species and voted the Hunter River Turtle as their focus, enlisting the help of Hunter Local Land Services. Also touching on SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), 12 (Responsible consumption and production) and 13 (Climate action) the students planted a vegetable garden and used the produce to create, and then sell, meals in the school canteen. In doing so they raised $300, which they donated to the Australian Reptile Park to assist with the construction of new facilities for the Hunter River Turtle.
“One of the legacies of Kreative Koalas has been we now celebrate World Turtle Day each year and continue to raise money,” St Brigid’s teacher Kristen Jones says. “In 2021 we again donated to the Australian Reptile Park and in 2022 we are hoping to support charity Sea Shelter in their work with sea turtles. Another legacy has been the implementation of a new bin system at the school for waste reduction and participation in the REDcyle program.”
St Brigid’s will be a part of Kreative Koalas again in 2022 and Kristen has learnt to let the students lead the learning.
“Our kids are already passionate about sustainability and the environment and they will run the project,” she says. “When we started Kreative Koalas in 2020 I had all these ideas of what I wanted to do but when I actually listened to the kids I realised they already had a very clear idea of what would work and what they wanted.”
Watch the St Brigid’s students share their 2020 journey here
Kreative Koalas becomes beloved by teachers as well as students. Kitchen Garden teacher Cassandra Lindsay has delivered Kreative Koalas in two previous schools and is looking forward to delivering the program in a new format at Penrith Public School.
Students at Penrith Public School have set up a Kreative Koalas corner in their classroom
“Whilst I have identified goals and ideas that are important to me I know real success comes from giving the students ownership of the project. We will be inviting the students to be the driving force and decide our direction,” Cass says.
“The principal of Penrith Public School is highly supportive of the Kitchen Garden program and environmental awareness programs and in Term 2 and Term 3 of 2022 Kreative Koalas has been allocated space in our school timetable to run in conjunction with the Kitchen Garden program. This means the students I’ve selected, based on their interests, will be able to withdraw from class and come into my classroom to work solely on Kreative Koalas. That shows how much support the school has for the project.”
“I’ve selected Year Four students because I want these students to have the opportunity to develop leadership skills to support other students as they go into Year 5 and 6. My experience participating in Kreative Koalas in the past is that it immerses students in learning that has genuine impact, builds their networks, and helps them develop new skills. By starting early, we can help develop them into capacity builders for other students, a very important skill as they transition into high school.
“I’m looking at long term engagement. I’ve got a mix of students in the group. Some of them are very artistic. Some are good at thinking outside the box. I look forward to finding out what they want to focus on.
“The Kreative Koalas model is designed to involve the whole school in the project with students as young as kindergarten learning about its purpose, which is aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
Action4Agriculture has been working with young people for almost 20 years with Kreative Koalas and its partner programs, The Archibull Prize and Young Farming Champions. Throughout this time director Lynne Strong and her team have listened to the environmental and social concerns of our next generation and built resources to support them.
“Kreative Koalas allows our young people to create and implement their own solutions relevant to their school and their communities. They learn how to design and deliver projects that have genuine impact in making the world a better place. We welcome to the 2022 Kreative Koalas program returning schools and teachers, new schools and a new cohort of students and look forward to watching their sustainability journeys,” Lynne says.