Seven city teenagers - from Riccarton, Hillmorton and Cashmere High Schools in Christchurch - last week got a taste of 'life on the land', spending a week with four farming families in the Central, Mid and South Canterbury regions.
The visit was part of an innovative Farm Experience (FX) Program, developed by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank to help bridge the 'urban/rural divide', giving city teenagers the opportunity to spend a week on-farm, living with a farming family and learning about life on the land and food production.
This was the first FX Program to be held in New Zealand. The program resulted from a national survey undertaken by the bank in 2016 that showed an alarming lack of knowledge about the agricultural sector amongst city teenagers, with four in five of those surveyed saying they knew little or nothing about farming or food production.
In addition to their week on farm, all of the participating students were brought together on the last day of the FX Program for a supply chain field trip where they were given an insight into the range of occupations outside the farmgate. The field trip included visits to a range of mid-Canterbury agricultural companies including Midland Seeds, Synlait Dairy and Merino New Zealand.
Cashmere High School Year-10 student, Bella Howe was one of the city teenagers who jumped at the chance to participate in the program and spent a week on Margaret and Ross Manson's beef finishing and sheep property located south-west of Hororata.
Immersing herself in country life, Bella spent the week vaccinating, drenching and tagging stock, helping out with the shearing and assisting with a myriad of other day-to-day tasks associated with running a farm.
Bella said she had spent very little time on a farm prior to the program and after hearing about the program from her agricultural teacher, had decided to put her name forward so she could "work on a farm and see what's it's really like."
"I didn't expect we'd be doing so much practical stuff," Bella said "and I really didn't realise all of the things that needed to happen and all of the decisions that need to be made on-farm every day."
Bella said the program had been a fantastic experience and had opened her eyes to the career possibilities in the agricultural sector.
"It was so much fun and I'm so glad I did it. I got to see and learn so many new things and I now realise how many different types of jobs there are in agriculture."
Emelia Cox, also from Cashmere High school, was another of the program attendees and spent a week on Joe and Suz Wyburn's dairy farm near Rangitata.
As with Bella, Emelia was kept busy on the Wyburns' dairy property assisting with a range of farm activities.
"We helped out with jobs like the daily milking as well as with moving fences, drenching, weighing, and tending to cows with injured hooves," she said.
Emelia said although she had some prior knowledge about farming life, the program had cemented her desire to study to become a veterinarian.
"I do some work on the weekend on a lifestyle block which has lots of farm animals so I did have some idea of what to expect, but I really enjoyed spending some time on a larger commercial farming operation," she said.
"During the week we had the chance to observe a vet while he was doing ultra sounds on some of the dairy cows that were in calf. It was great seeing how he worked and I'm now keener to be a vet than ever."
Margaret Mason, who hosted Bella on farm along with Riccarton High School's Jack Goodgame, said she was really impressed by the students willingness to learn and 'have a crack' at tasks that were new to them.
Margaret said the family got involved in the FX Program to "challenge some of the perceptions of agriculture held by those in the city."
"There's a bit of a perception that agriculture is for the students that don't do well at school and so we wanted to show the students the level of planning that goes into running a farming operation and some of the hi-tech equipment that we utilise like our irrigation technology and weighing equipment," she said.
"We talked the students through some of the key tasks we regularly carry out on farm, like putting together and monitoring feed budgets, and I think they were quite surprised by the amount of detailed information that we consider to ensure we make decisions that keep our farm performing well."
Rabobank's regional manager for the Southern South Island David Clarke, said the FX Program not only gave "city students the opportunity to discover first-hand where food and clothing comes from, but also opened their eyes to the range of exciting careers in agriculture."
"We hope that having spent a week on farm, students will take back to their families, as well as their schools and communities, an understanding of rural life. And that they'll also be more inclined to consider a career in the agriculture sector," he said.
Mr Clarke said the FX Program was a direct initiative of Rabobank's Client Councils, groups of the bank's farming clients around New Zealand who meet to discuss issues and implement ideas to contribute to the sustainability of rural communities.
"The Client Councils give our farming clients the opportunity to debate the big issues facing the sector, and, with our help, they are starting to address some of these issues," he said.
"The challenge of retaining and attracting youth into agriculture is one of the four key objectives of the councils, and the FX Program is a great example of how we're looking to tackle this issue."
"Last week's FX program was the first held in New Zealand. Given the excellent feedback we've had thus far from both the students and host families it is certainly something that we will consider running again in Canterbury or others part of the country."