Young Farmers going well beyond school

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24 May 2017

By Tim Thompson, Agriculture teacher, Mount Lilydale Mercy CollegeYoung Farmers at Mount Lilydale Mercy College learning outside the classroom

Mount Lilydale Mercy College has for a long time made Agriculture and Horticulture subjects available to students. However, the school’s Young Farmers program has seen the students, staff and school itself transform beyond classroom learning and teaching.

Young Farmers was born out of an idea to turn the school’s vineyard into a winery and to establish a large animal program at the school’s farm (then consisting of a disused hothouse, some poultry, a small planning of fruit trees and 20 vegetable plots).

Eighteen students arrived at the first meeting of Young Farmers and it was decided to gather every Friday lunchtime and learn together to care for the new goats and other aspects of the farm. We named the new farm McAuley Park, after the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. We determined to enact the charism values of hospitality and mercy in all we did with the animals on the farm.

Our wonderful young farmers have grown their animal showing skills to include goats, sheep, poultry, wine and preserves. With hard work and care, success followed. This has included a grand champion goat at the Royal Melbourne and Lilydale shows. We have also won medals in large Victorian wine shows for the school wine, made entirely by the students. Students have developed a range of skills including communication, problem solving and creativity with the opportunities as the program has developed.

Young Farmers have been asked to judge classes at Victorian goat shows including a major show in Seymour. Students have dressed up for the polo, performed at wine launches in front of major dignitaries, sold produce at farmers markets and represented local businesses at trade stands at the local field days.

The program is still growing, and the infectious energy and joy of the young farmers has also seen significant donations and involvement from wonderful community businesses. These donations include veterinary care, team uniforms, wine analysis, fencing equipment and more. A major cattle show team has also sponsored places for our students in the Royal Show. Another student is now being flown around the country to work on cattle teams at major shows. Most impressively, the work of our students hands has seen us forge relationships across sectors, with Tintern Grammar donating four purebred Romney sheep to expand the program this year.

Agriculture enrolments and academic engagement has grown exponentially. Students now think nothing of being at school on weekends and during school holidays picking and pressing grapes, showing and preparing animals and any number of other tasks. They and their parents' raw enthusiasm has fed back into the formal agriculture program with enrolled numbers up across classes.

Young Farmers at Mount Lilydale Mercy College learning outside the classroom

Field days at RIST Agricultural College and the Dookie Campus of University of Melbourne have seen students engage with possible futures. Many are now aspiring to university in a range of agricultural and animal care related fields. The first of our Young Farmers are now studying at University of Melbourne Dookie, and returning to support the team at shows.

Seeing the wonderful little community of young farmers grow and develop in their abilities, skills and experiences is surely what a modern education is about.