Around 80 per cent of Melbourne’s food is grown in its outer suburbs, the business is huge, dynamic and is a good example of sustainable, high intensity farming.
So, Werribee horticulture business, Velisha Farms, has started offering primary schools across Victoria the opportunity to participate in a hands-on program to see where much of their fresh food comes from and inspire them to pursue careers in agriculture.
The hands-on excursion immerses students in a living classroom experience where they engage in educational games and interact with the surrounding horticultural environment.
“The children learn about the process of planting, growing, harvesting, picking, packaging, and distributing fresh produce.
“Our students toured the facility, entered the cool rooms, weighed veggies, catalogued the crop...and engaged in a number of rotations that gave scope about the sorts of produce farmed in the area,” explains Sarah Cornish, Teacher at School of the Good Shepherd, based in Gladstone Park.
“Sustainability is an emerging cornerstone value at our school, so it was an extraordinary experience for students to not only understand the how and why farms like Velisha operate but also to ponder questions like 'are there more sustainable practices farms and supermarkets alike could be investing in?'” she says.
The school received a grant as part of the Victorians Farmers Association’s (VFF) 'Kids to Ag' program.
Funded by the VFF, the education initiative aims to teach young children about sustainability, how their produce is grown, and the extensive job opportunities within the agricultural industry.
“The sector has evolved, it’s not people’s perception of what farm work might be, it’s a sophisticated business now,” says Mark Pullin, Head of Education at Velisha Farms.
“It’s a really great opportunity to get students excited about horticulture in multiple ways.
“We are hoping to inspire them to eat more fresh vegetables, ask different questions about food production and supply chains. But I think what is most exciting is how we get to give tangible knowledge about careers in horticulture to groups of students. We want to teach kids about how veg grows but also how they can grow within our industry,” Managing Director of Velisha Farms Catherine Velisha says.
The project is supported by the Government’s ‘Educating Kids About Agriculture’, a program under the Liberal and Nationals Government’s ‘Our Plan to Showcase Agriculture: Our Heritage Our Future’ scheme, which aims to boost career interest within the sector.
“The opportunity for us farmers and the entire agriculture industry to showcase the work that goes into producing our world-class food and fibre will hopefully inspire the next generation of Victorian farmers” says VFF Vice-President, Danyel Cucinotta.
With the federal government aiming to increase the industry’s total value to $100 billion by 2030, the sector calls for more research, development, and human capital, explains Pullin.
“Hopefully our program will encourage students to look at the sector as a potential career path,” he says.