Teaching about farming life

Southland farmers Dot and Colin McDonald and dog Potts get satisfaction from taking part in the...
Southland farmers Dot and Colin McDonald and dog Potts get satisfaction from taking part in the Farmer Time for Schools programme. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A Southland farmer is encouraging teachers to get involved with an educational programme connecting pupils to food and fibre producers.

Farmer Time for Schools has been matching a teacher and their class to a farmer since launching in 2022.

Dot McDonald is in her second year of working with Tamatea Intermediate teacher Sandra Howard in Hawke’s Bay.

"We were one of the lucky ones to get on board early," Mrs McDonald said.

She and her husband Colin teach the pupils about life on their 611ha sheep, beef and dairy grazing property at Slope Point.

From their farm, they video-call the class for an hour lesson.

Due to the high level of interest from the pupils, the sessions went from fortnightly to weekly, she said.

"The pupils have been very pro-farming and have asked some amazing questions and want to understand, which is really cool."

Teaching the pupils about farming was "gratifying", Mrs McDonald said.

Pupils asked her about the type of jobs available in agriculture, including a city girl who asked how she could become a shepherd.

“These kids have had a tiny taste of what’s possible. We need these bright young people in all aspects of farming and if we can give them a look at what’s possible, maybe they will choose careers in the primary industries,” she said.

Many farmers were eager to participate and were on a waiting list due to the shortage of teachers in the programme. She urged more teachers to get on board.

Ms Howard said the programme was "extremely beneficial”.

“By actively participating and connecting with our farmers on a regular basis, my learners acquired a multifaceted education that extended beyond the classroom, fostering a holistic understanding of food production, environmental sustainability and community engagement.”

National co-ordinator Marie Burke, of Gisborne, said the programme was set up by Beef + Lamb New Zealand to engage, inspire and educate primary and intermediate pupils about the journey of food from farm to fork.

The farm types involved in the programme last year included beef, dairy, deer, goat and sheep farmers, beekeepers and grain, mushroom and vegetable growers.

Nearly 100 teachers and more than 2000 pupils in urban and rural schools had been paired by the end of last year.