Monday, April 22, 2024

Learning the ABCs of farming

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Lessons on Donald’s Farm cover a lot of ground – and the livestock on it.
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Every morning dairy farmer Sam Waugh sees the Auckland Sky Tower through his window. It’s a great reminder of one of his key life goals – giving young people from towns and cities insights into farm life. 

The 31-year-old runs New Zealand Young Farmers’ Donald’s Farm in Whitford, about 30km southeast of Auckland. Last year, the farm hosted 900 primary and secondary school visitors. It aims to build up to 5000 a year.

“It’s awesome showing young people around the farm to learn how milk goes from grass to glass. We’re hoping to attract the next generation of farmers,” Waugh said.

“Most of the students haven’t been on a dairy farm before so it’s great seeing their reaction when they see cows close up and check out the native tree planting we’re doing on the farm.”

Dairy farmer Donald Pearson donated Donald’s Farm to NZ Young Farmers because he wanted to support a strong future for Kiwis in agriculture.

“There are lots of career opportunities including farm assistants, managers, farm owners and rural professionals. There are also great opportunities at industry-good organisations such as DairyNZ, which supports farmers with research, resources and advocacy,” Waugh said.

This year, DairyNZ is supporting Donald’s Farm’s March 10 open day as part of the national Open Farms initiative, where farms of all types throughout NZ host members of the public to see farming first-hand.

Community members young and old help plant native trees on Donald’s Farm. Pictured: Mia-Rose Karsten, 11, takes part in the Nature’s Den initiative on the farm to learn about nature.

Waugh’s love for agriculture began when he was a high school student in Kimbolton in Manawatū, working on local farms. He knew it was his future so studied for a Bachelor of Commerce and Agriculture at Lincoln University.

While studying, he developed a passion for community service and got involved in NZ Young Farmers, which he finds tremendously rewarding. The non-profit organisation connects and empowers young people in rural communities.

Waugh said it’s a lot of fun. “You meet a lot of great people and volunteer for awesome initiatives, giving back to the sector and local communities.”

Over six years, Waugh chaired NZ Young Farmers’ Lincoln Club, then the Christchurch district and Tasman region, as he moved up through the organisation. He then served on the national board for two years, helping give young people a voice in local and national decision-making affecting rural communities.

After working as a farm consultant for four years, Waugh lived in England with his wife Liana for 18 months. Waugh said they had a great time exploring new places and seeing different ways of living and farming.

When they returned to New Zealand in 2020, Waugh jumped at the chance to manage Donald’s Farm – his first management role.

“I get a lot of personal development out of making all the farming decisions and get a real kick out of developing the education programme with the farm’s board of directors.”

Donald’s Farm has 74 hectares and is home to 125 cows, including milking shorthorns – a rare breed on Kiwi dairy farms – and light-brown Jerseys.

Future plans for the farm include creating an educational centre for children to learn about food, farming and nature, adding to the farm’s role as an outdoor classroom.

“We’re keen to have students come back to the farm multiple times throughout their schooling to develop their knowledge of what it’s like on a farm,” Waugh said. “It’s awesome to see young people grow more confident around the animals and on the farm every time they visit.”

Many young people visiting Donald’s Farm are meeting farm animals for the first time. Here, Benjamin Weston, 13, enjoys meeting a calf at Donald’s Farm.

The visits teach children about the whole agriculture sector including dairy, sheep and beef farming, horticulture and forestry. One of the programmes offered to schools involves people from more than 35 primary sector organisations showcasing the work that they do, helping to highlight the breadth of opportunities within the sector.

“This encourages students to realise there is so much more to agriculture than they might have realised,” Waugh said.

 He is keen to inspire young people to get involved in environmental initiatives on farms and in their communities. 

“We’re committed to a healthy habitat on Donald’s Farm so native wildlife including birds can thrive,” he says.

“With help from Trees for Survival, Conservation Volunteers NZ, corporates and members of the public, we’ve planted about 20,000 native trees, plants, flax, grasses and sedges. We’re aiming to plant at least 100,000 more over 7.5ha – about 10% of the farm.”

The Trees for Survival Charitable Trust works with schools and communities throughout NZ to grow and plant native trees alongside waterways, on farms and community spaces.

“We’re also working with Conservation Volunteers NZ to establish a native nursery on the farm, to grow 50,000 native plants every year to plant alongside the Papakura Stream.”

Donald’s Farm is also involved with Nature’s Den, an organisation helping Auckland children explore and learn about nature, including on farms and forests. As part of this, students visit Donald’s Farm once a week to spend time in one of the farm’s native bush blocks and learn about the outdoors.

In November 2023, Waugh and Nature’s Den founder Alex Sherie put on their gumboots and walked around Donald’s Farm for 24 hours to raise money and awareness for the charity I Am Hope. The charity provides counselling services for young Kiwis. Sam and Alex’s Gumboot Crusade raised $3400.

Waugh is excited for the future, including for his one-year-old son Albie, with so many people learning about nature and giving back to their communities. 

When everyone pulls together, the sky’s the limit, he said.

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