1. Be an active agvocate
2. Never stop learning
3. Live as though you'll die tomorrow, but farm as if you'll live forever
Remember the brilliant careers advice you got at school? Me neither - the best decision I ever made was to ignore my school careers advisor. The moment will always stick in my head, as it was a turning point which set me on the path to where I am today.
“I have no idea what A-levels to choose, but I quite like the sound of being a farm manager,” I said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, there are no job prospects in farming, you can’t make a career out of it, try this,” he said, handing me a bundle of leaflets about quantity surveying.
I was determined to prove him wrong, so that evening after school I rang up the local estate office and asked to speak to the farm manager. The picture he painted was the complete opposite to what the school were trying to tell me.
Today, I’m approaching the end of an Agriculture degree, and I recently attended the Youth Ag Summit (YAS) – the event that brings young people together to discuss the challenges of feeding a hungry planet. As a participant (the second-best decision I’ve made), I found that it’s not just in the UK where farming and careers in agriculture have massive image problems.
Sam Coggins, a delegate from Australia, talked about how farming was seen as an unattractive career over there – this in the land of 12 combines in one field! He spoke about how we need to link it up with young people’s career aspirations – law, or engineering, for example, to attract talent. And Özge Oezisiklioglu from Turkey told me how farmers there are treated as second-class citizens. Developing countries have subsistence farming to survive – they don’t see it as a business opportunity.
The Youth Ag Summit taught me a huge amount, but most importantly it showed me that we can make a difference (you can also read about my recent trip to Parliament with my fellow YAS delegates here.)
Highlights of the Summit included Hlami Ngwenya’s AgriCOOLture talk, showing how we can make agriculture ‘sexy’ and engage more young people, and Hugh Evans of Global Citizen delivered a poignant message which I will carry with me: Unremarkable people can do remarkable things. You don’t have to be a politician to change the world. All we need to do is start small and ideas will snowball.
One of the main lessons I learned from the Summit was that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The SDG project I was assigned to was focused on encouraging women to get stuck into ag. It was interesting how there was such a mix of people
in our group, from developed and developing countries, from ag backgrounds, engineering backgrounds, quite a few aspiring first-generation farmers, but all completely behind the same goal. We didn’t win, but at the same time I did win something special: the friendship of some incredible people who continue to inspire me, and the belief that if you put your mind to something, you can do remarkable things.
Everyone at the Summit was tasked with taking away “three little things.” So, here are mine:
Be an active agvocate – part of my plan was to badger people about agricultural education and its part on the curriculum. I’m starting small with my old school to go and drum up the next generation of farming and see where that takes me.
Never stop learning – agriculture is always changing and evolving… dare I mention Brexit?! Us leaving the EU will shake it up a bit more, so if I want to be a good farmer and a good agvocate, I need to adapt and learn with it.
‘Live as though you’ll die tomorrow, but farm as if you’ll live forever.’
Coming to the end of my agricultural degree and moving forward, I want to make it my mission to spread the message about what a brilliant industry agriculture is overall, and as a career choice.
How can we expect to attract young people into an industry that half of them don’t even realise exists? How can you aspire to be an agronomist, an animal nutritionist, a grain trader, or a farm manager, when you don’t even know that producing food is a job?! As Georgie Aley, a speaker at YAS said, “Food is fashion” – so where is our PR department? All these fashion houses get young people through their doors… we need the same approach, we need to open the farm gate.
I was fortunate to have people who were willing to give me a couple of weeks’ lambing or milking here and there; the place where I’ve spent the past couple of harvests took a massive gamble by taking me on with no tractor-driving experience and training me up on the job. This is something I want to give back – for the farmers who have inspired me, I want to inspire the next generation of farmers.
We need to get food and ag onto the curriculum. It’s all well and good having food and technology lessons, but those ingredients didn’t magically appear in the fridge! And there are many children who remain completely confused about where their food comes from.
The Youth Ag Summit made me realise that this is an easily achievable goal. First on the agenda is a visit to my old school to tell that careers advisor (and everybody else whilst I’m at it) just how wrong he was, and see where that takes me!
I took a leap of faith that day back at the start of sixth-form, but five years later, it has absolutely paid off. Being at the Youth Ag Summit surrounded by people who shared the same passion confirmed that for me, and it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Someone wise once said to me, “Find a job you’ll love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” I can safely say, therefore, I will never work another day in my life; it’s all fun and games from now on!
For more insight on what happened at this year’s Youth Ag Summit, click here.