At Holy Goat, as much as we farm the land and the goats, we are also aiming to cultivate farmers. In Australia, the average age of farmers is around 53 years of age (compared with 39 years for all other occupations – the latest ABS stats make sobering reading). Agriculture is faced with an aging workforce at a time when our industry sorely needs young farmers with drive and passion and intellect.
Other organic growers, such as Allsun Farm’s Michael Plane and Joyce Wilkie have recognised this too; they have developed the “Growing the Growers” program to address succession planning and the dearth of young people working in sustainable agricultural production. Like us, Allsun Farm have found that the best and brightest farmers, may not necessarily come through traditional pathways.
Over the years Holy Goat has trained and mentored many students and staff. Interested people have accessed our farm in a range of ways: the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) scheme, Agriculture and Veterinary university placements, Odysee Agri (a French Agricultural placement program), Agriventure, work experience, internships or direct employment. Some have gone on to run their own dairy and cheese making farms or take placements in rural locations
Our focus more recently has been on the benefits and possibilities that internship brings, for both our farm and the interns.
The beauty of internship is that we can have interns on the farm for long periods of time (three months and more). The interns benefit from real immersion in every aspect of the farm and the networks and connections that we have developed over years in the industry. Internship does require more responsibility and commitment from us all, but real benefits come with that.
At the moment we have two interns working on the farm – Jessie and Margot. Margot a young French woman studied Agriculture and is working on the farm for 6 months. Her Alpine experiences include cheese-making in Montane and herding and hand-milking 250 goats and sheep through summer pastures of the Pyrenees mountains. She’s keen to bring her French experiences to an Australian setting and learn more from us, and about the local culture. Margot is building her experience here so she is able to set up her own dairy goat herd and make cheese in France.
Jessie a young Australian has left her physiotherapy life to embark on an extended internship working on the farm. Jesse says, “This opportunity of being full-time on the farm has allowed me to learn practical on-farm skills quickly- from fencing to milking goats and making cheese. With my time here, I’ve been able to get to know the entire dairy goat herd intimately. On a daily basis I meet their needs including milking, feeding, brushing and administering treatments. I am a goat slave! Life on the farm has also been about connecting with others through farmers markets, field days and workshops.”
Our six staff are involved in all aspects of the enterprise: from selling our cheeses at farmers markets; through to the day to day farming and cheese-making. Interns will experience all of these roles as well. Staff also appreciate the interns on the farm. The interns offer much needed support in busy times; they inspire with their youthful energy and enthusiasm and bring local and international experiences.
It’s very rewarding to be able to provide learning opportunities for future farmers, to benefit from their unique skills and to see them go on to develop as farmers. We enjoy the energy and positive approach that young people bring to the farm and the opportunity to provide them with another model for sustainable farming. It’s been a vital part of our farms growth.