THE Commonwealth-funded Kids to Farm program has drawn to an end but Hagley Farm Primary School is continuing its commitment to offering quality on-farm experiences for primary school students.
Working closely with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the school has been running the Kids to Farm program over the past four years with a funding boost paying for customised excursions to the school and enabling the employment of TFGA project officer Claire Robertson to oversee the program.
While many people are familiar with the farm school’s reputation for a hands-on educational experience through its Field Studies Centre, the Kids to Farm program allowed a more targeted and intensive farming experience for early years to Year 6 students.
The benefits also extended beyond school excursions, with professional learning for around 50 teachers who took part in a seminar with Primary Industries Education Foundation of Australia CEO Luciano Mesiti. Statewide Coordinator for the Revitalising School Farms initiative Andrew Harris said that the program has been “outstanding”.
“We were able to target one class at a time rather than two or three and give them a genuine hands-on experience with animals, technology and innovative agriculture processes,” he said.
“Students were able to try tasks such as moving calves down to the cattle yards, weighing using the tag readers and weight scales, using penetrometers and immersing themselves in soil science, learning about cover cropping, the role of trees on farms and so many more experiences.
“Teachers kept saying we have to find a way to continue the program and we are looking to do that this year with industry sponsorship and continued support from organisations such as the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, which will pay for specific excursions booked this year through residue funding from the Kids to Farms program.”
Hagley receives State Government assistance to operate its Field Studies Centre as a ‘Centre for Excellence in Agricultural Education’ and a part of that funding will be redirected to help continue the Kids to Farms program. “What we’ve witnessed is less look-and-talk and more hands on is what opens students’ eyes to study and careers in agriculture,” Mr Harris said.
The Tasmanian Agricultural Productivity Group was so impressed with the results it has agreed to contribute to a similar program to run this year but aimed more at high school students and career pathways.
The Hagley Farm School Agricultural Learning Centre already has up to 6000 visitors a year from primary and high schools around the state. But Mr Harris is confident that it can handle an increased cohort of secondary students as well.
In the meantime the school year will begin with a continued focus on improving the school farm environment to achieve a higher level of aesthetics, safety and productivity. School principal Jeanagh Viney said building better infrastructure is key to making the Field Studies Centre a real showcase.
New fencing and gates have recently been added along with a native species arboretum, supported by the Forest Education Foundation and Greening Australia.
Established on the farm school’s harvested pine block there were 1500 trees planted during stage one and another 400 plants are set to go in to extend the arboretum into a wetlands area identified as a hot spot for the endangered green and gold frog. Greening Australia has provided signage, plant identification labels and wildlife cameras to monitor which animals use the space.
Students have enjoyed setting the cameras up while teachers develop new learning experiences around what they find. Eventually Greening Australia plans to build up propagation to plant out into areas of the Northern Midlands.