By Joel Kulasingham
City kid Fatima Imran moved to New Zealand from Dubai, but now loves agricultural studies and is inspired to pursue a career in the sector - all because of her school's farm.
Imran, 17, is a Year 12 student at Auckland's Mt Albert Grammar School. Despite being situated in the heart of the country's largest city, the school has a 9ha farm, and will today turn the first sod for a new multi-million dollar agri-food centre on the site.
It will aim to bridge the agricultural divide between rural and urban areas - and get city kids like Imran interested in the sector.
"We learnt that everything started from the land and it's cool how New Zealand's story is from land and we're known in the world for being a clean green area, so that's what I love about it," she told the Herald.
Imran is one of around 160 students at 2700 pupil MAGS who currently study NCEA-level agricultural and horticultural programmes, where students work on the model farm, handle stock, drive tractors, as well as learn other skills like agri-business.
The centre will be a great way to get young people into agriculture, she said.
"I think people who are from Auckland or from the city and they have no idea what agriculture is about, they will like look at it and ... it will catch students' eyes.
"That's what New Zealand is. Agriculture was the past, it will be the present, it will be the future. It will stick with us wherever we go."
The farming industry needs "a lot more people coming in and seeing a career" in the sector, Mark Heer, chairman of the advisory group for the project, said.
"There is a gap in understanding between the respective urban and rural communities over the sector."
The state-of-the-art centre will bridge that gap and provide a more forward looking facility for students and the community, Heer said.
"It becomes a facility for the urban and rural community to come together and will tell a story about the agri-food value chain."
The centre will also match rising student demand, Heer said, and allow up to 500 students to study agricultural courses at the school.