Sunday, March 3, 2024

OFF THE CUFF: Our farming future’s in good hands

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In a year where everything has gone to hell in a handbasket, one could be forgiven for having a pessimistic outlook on life. But from a totally unexpected source, my perspective on the farming future in this country has been given a significant boost thanks to the optimism and enthusiasm of three young boys.
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The story starts at our local country primary school, South Makirikiri, and we are very lucky to have a proactive and personable principal. Greg, who started out as just a principal a few years ago, quickly became a valued community member and friend to many.

This term one of the classes is undertaking a project where they have to either offer a service to the local community or create some products to be sold in a marketplace. Both avenues are designed as a fundraiser for school activities such as camps, but at their core are much more than that. 

The students are being encouraged to think of ways they can contribute, gain experience and interact with the community that they live in. This exercise in itself is a revelation, and in my opinion should be rolled out as mandatory through all Kiwi schools.

Three of the boys in this class – Sam, Alex and Jonty – have jumped at the chance to offer a service as they all come from local farming families. They have the passion and innocence of youth, but are also three of the most polite and respectful young men you could imagine. 

Under the watchful eye of principal Greg, they created a business card for what they were hoping to achieve and set about contacting local farmers to arrange work on local farms. 

Their “business” is called Farm Boys Helping Hands and offers services ranging from yard work and grubbing thistles to moving stock and even moving dirt. 

My first reaction when I heard about the group was just plain joy. 

Here is a group of young kids who are just fizzing to get involved in our local farming community and help out any way they can. So, it was an easy decision for me to get on board and offer a day’s work for them.

I arranged with principal Greg to collect them from school and made sure the boys all had their tucker boxes, jackets and boots ready to go. When I arrived to pick them up, I had to laugh to myself as I could have collected a bus load of kids for the day as word had spread through the school and all their siblings and mates were hanging around green with envy. 

The thing that struck me on the ute ride to our farm was just how enthusiastic these kids are. They asked insightful, polite questions and I admit I had to constantly remind myself that I was talking to young boys, not grown adults.

Their first task was a big one. We had to muster and dock a small mob of ewes and lambs that should have probably been docked a month earlier. The lambs were huge and some struggled to fit in the docking chute but the boys dug in, sorted out a system and worked bloody hard. I didn’t have to explain anything twice, they asked questions about anything they were unsure of and their faces smiled the whole time. For those of us who have had farm staff, we all know that these three traits are probably the most sought after for any employer.

Throughout the day, as their chat and confidence grew, their personalities also started to come out. And as they did, I found myself contemplating just where they would end up in life. 

Sam is a machinery man through and through. He knows his gear and has driven tractor’s supervised on a neighbour’s cropping farm. When he first laid eyes on our side-by-side he just uttered one word, “sick”. I had to ask him if that meant cool or not, as I’m a fair bit older and not up-to-date with kidspeak. I would not be surprised if he ends up with a very successful contracting business with a hill country block, so he can get his fix of mustering as well.

Alex lit up when I asked him about a recent hunting trip. He described a trip down south with a cousin and uncle and the thrill of being able to bag his first trophy fallow. I would not be surprised if he ends up as a hunting guide, while maybe owning a Hunting and Fishing store as well.

Jonty comes from a family of athletes. He chatted about running over our neighbour’s big hills training for the local cross country interschool as if it was just a walk in the park. I would not be surprised if he ends up on the podium at a future Olympic game before settling back in Rangitikei and continuing on his parents’ dairy farm.

Of course, this is all just speculation and the truth is at their age they could end up doing anything. But one thing I do know for certain is that these three young boys offer such hope for the future of farming. Their infectious enthusiasm, work ethic at such a young age and smiling, bubbly personalities rubbed off on me during the course of just one day.

With kids like this, our farming future will be in good hands.

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