Local farming education initiative founder honoured

2018-08-08 06:00
PHOTO: suppliedFounder of Future Farmers Judy Stuart together with Future Farmer graduate Lungelo Mathenjwa.

PHOTO: suppliedFounder of Future Farmers Judy Stuart together with Future Farmer graduate Lungelo Mathenjwa.

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THE founder and CEO of Future Farmers, a unique farming education initiative providing work-integrated learning experiences for aspiring farmers, Judy Stuart has been selected as a recipient of one of only ten 2018 Klaus J. Jacobs Awards for social innovation and engagement by the Jacobs Foundation.

The Swiss-based Jacobs Foundation, which seeks to promote education with the goal of improving the lives of the current generation of young people and the lives of those to come, awards annual prizes for exceptional achievements in research and practice in the field of child and youth development.

Stuart has been selected from over 50 nominees to receive the award and will travel to Switzerland later this year to accept the award on behalf of Future Farmers.

With the 100 000CHF (R1 300 000) prize money, Stuart plans to build a facility to accommodate the many applicants who travel from all over South Africa to Howick for Future Farmer interviews and have nowhere to stay overnight. The facility will also include a lecture room for short courses, such as first aid and soft-skills training, as well as a facility to run orientation courses for Future Farmers leaving on overseas internships.

Future Farmers is a unique social programme which aims to cultivate skills and ignite a passion for farming in young aspiring farmers between the ages of 18 and 26 years old by providing them with real job experiences in a field of agriculture of their choice. The programme is designed to give young people the opportunity to “learn as they earn” by finding apprentice positions on local and then international farms.

Future Farmers was born in 2006 when Stuart, a dairy farmer herself, discovered that many passionate young graduates from a local agricultural high school were unable to access tertiary education or find positions on farms. Stuart asked local farmers to take these students on as apprentices in order for them to “learn and earn” as a stepping stone for careers in agriculture.

At the time, Stuart was involved with American Field Scholars (AFS), an international exchange, study abroad and volunteer programme, and had seen how young people visiting South Africa had benefited from the experience. She wanted these young Future Farmers to have the same experience — and so the first Future Farmer to do an overseas internship went to Germany where he assisted on a dairy farm. This was a life changing experience for him and, since then, many Future Farmers have completed 12 month internships and gone on to very successful careers in farming.

Currently, there are 37 Future Farmer interns in dairies, beef operations, poultry production units, on macadamia and citrus farms, in piggeries and on a variety of other farming enterprises in the USA and in Australia.

The success of Future Farmers is largely due to the many farmers and agribusinesses who partner with the organisation, including the KZN Agricultural Union, Kwanalu. Over the past four years, Kwanalu has secured funding for Future Farmers in order to initiate, drive and support job creation and youth development in agriculture in the province.

Kwanalu CEO Sandy La Marque congratulated Stuart on her achievement, saying “It is a superb achievement for Judy and Kwanalu is exceptionally proud to be part of the Future Farmer dream that Judy has worked so tirelessly to implement. Kwanalu is fully committed and sees Future Farmers as taking agriculture forward in KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, this is truly an initiative which makes a real difference.”

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