Farm Visit program to bridge city-country divide
A new Farm Visit program aims to open farm-gates across the country to connect children, the farm and the kitchen.
Farming friends Karen Sowter and Emily Neilson from Dungog in New South Wales’ Lower Hunter Valley have launched ’Farm Visit’ and they plan to roll it out nationally.
The program will link children, schools and Australian agriculture by opening the farm-gate to create relationships, understanding and connection.
A former grain and corporate marketer now living on a beef farm with her husband Mark and six-year-old son Samuel, Karen wants children to understand more about their food and the importance of supporting Australian agriculture and farmers.
Emily, husband Matt and their three-year-old son Joseph, set up a dairy farm two years ago and are passionate about the industry. They are the first local dairy to open their farm-gates so families and children can feed calves, watch cows being milked, make fresh butter and learn about the day in a life of a dairy farmer.
Farm Visit ultimately aims to encompass all types of agriculture and Karen says it will give children a better understanding of the food chain. The initial launch of Facebook and Instagram sites attracted 36 bookings within the first week.
Karen runs the Primary Schools Program at her local agricultural show and an incident during the 2016 show proved to her that more needs to be done to educate children.
“We were hand milking a cow and even though the children couldn’t drink the milk, I encouraged them to dip their fingers in the bucket to feel it,” Karen said. “One boy said `oh, it’s warm, my milk comes out cold’. He didn’t realise milk comes from an animal and he didn’t understand the connection.
“That’s part of the driving reason to get kids on farm so they can understand more about their food and who produces it.”
Karen also hopes Farm Visit will strengthen brand awareness with consumers.
“By giving visitors samples of branded dairy products, we’ll get them recognising their local milk brands and the awareness not to buy generic products. That will help our dairy farmers,” she said. “We want people to buy a product that’s going to go back into the pocket of Australian farmers.
“If we can build a connection between every non-farming family and farming families, they will stop and think about what they buy.”
Karen believes educating children is the best way to influence future purchases. “Children can take the message to their homes. If they’re pouring milk on their breakfast they can say `we went out on a dairy farm and we want the milk that is best for our country’.
“More and more people want to know how their food is produced or grown, and how many food miles it has travelled, and we want to be proactive in showing them; in all agricultural sectors. This is where the Foodie Farm Visits and Open Days really shine,” Emily said.
Dungog is perfectly located to host farm visits, Karen said. ”It’s less than three hours from Sydney, an hour from Maitland and 90 minutes from Newcastle. There’s are a lot of schools and pre-schools to work with initially.”.
Emily and Karen have launched a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds to cover start-up costs, insurance, facility improvements and to provide materials for children.
Supporting industry groups and the local community is important to the Farm Visit culture. Both Karen and Emily support the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and are active members of ALWN; Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network.
Farm Visit can be found at www.farmvisit.com.au, www.facebook.com/farmvisitau and www.instagram.com/farmvisit/