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Bridging the urban-country divide – innovative program gives Perth teens the chance to spend a week on farm

Eleven Perth teenagers have been given a taste of ‘life on the land’, spending last week with farming families across the Great Southern region near Narrogin.

Their 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.

The FX Program resulted from a national survey undertaken by the bank that showed for urban kids, spending holidays on the farm with their country cousins is largely a thing of the past, with three-quarters of city-based teenagers knowing little or nothing about farming.

Methodist Ladies’ College year-10 student, Claire Ivey was one of the city teenagers who “jumped at the chance to spend a week on farm”, travelling 250 kilometres to Rob and Caroline Rex’s 3800 hectare cropping and grazing property, “Westendale”, 30 kilometres south-west of Wagin.

Immersing herself in country life, Claire saw the Rexs’ farming operation in full-swing – helping in the shearing shed as part of their two-week annual shearing and sitting in the header to help harvest this year’s canola crop.

For Claire, the highlight of the week was “helping the dogs work the sheep”, which was a real ‘eye-opener’ as she “had never been on a farm before.”

Awed by the “all the space” as well as, the peace and quiet, Claire said she now had a greater appreciation of what was involved in the running of a farming business.

“I can’t believe how hard farmers work, and how much effort they put into everything they do,” she said.

“I knew they had to shear their sheep, but I had no idea about all the processes involved such as skirting the fleece and sorting the wool based on its different qualities.”

Farm host, Caroline Rex said their family had jumped at the chance to be involved in the program to help “chip away at the country-city divide”.

“We see the gap between city and country people continue to widen, and with it, there are ramifications with the general lack of understanding around food production and how farmers care for their land,” she said.

Rob Rex agreed, saying in the past everyone in the city had a country relation, but with changing demographics, there just wasn’t that connection anymore.

Mr Rex said from their perspective the ‘urban/rural’ divide was more pronounced in the cities, with kids from the land generally having the opportunity to live in the city for university or work, while city kids may not have the same opportunities to move to rural areas.

The Rexs said Claire had timed her visit perfectly, with shearing and harvest signalling the culmination of their year’s efforts.

“Claire has certainly been on a steep learning curve, but it has been great for her to be involved in the shearing and see the harvest, and she has even helped collect honey from our bees - which is a great way of seeing where our food comes from,” Mrs Rex said.

Rabobank’s head of Sustainable Business Development Marc Oostdijk 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 by experiencing rural life, students will take back to their families, as well as their schools and communities, an understanding of farming life. And that they will then take it one step further by considering a career in agriculture,” Mr Oostdijk said.

To give students an insight into the range of occupations outside the farmgate, they spent a day off-farm in the region – touring CBH’s storage and handling facility at Narrakine and being involved in careers discussions at Rabobank and Elders in Narrogin.

Claire said that before this week it had “never entered her head” to pursue a career in agriculture, but it would be something she would now consider after seeing the range of opportunities available.

Mr Oostdijk said the FX initiative, which held programs earlier in the year in Geraldton, Rockhampton, Griffith and Kadina, was a direct initiative of Rabobank’s Client Councils, groups of the bank’s farming clients around Australia who meet to discuss issues and implement ideas to contribute to the sustainability of rural communities.

“Our Client Councils, give our farming clients the opportunity to canvas the big issues facing the sector, and with our help we 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 big challenges can be tackled on a small scale to make real, long-lasting differences.

For more information visit www.farmexperienceprogram.com.au.

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.8 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia’s leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Media contacts:

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525
Email: denise.shaw@rabobank.com

Skye Ward
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand
Phone: 02 4855 1111 or 0418 216 103
Email: skye.ward@rabobank.com