Encouraging farming's next generation
At a small school in central New South Wales students are discovering inspiration and excitement in hands-on agricultural science.
Travel 60 kilometres west from Forbes, in central New South Wales, and Corinella Public School appears like an oasis in the middle of a seemingly empty landscape.
At the tiny school – with an enrolment of just 10 students – chickens scratch in the garden beds, there are several rainwater tanks attached to the buildings and there are flourishing vegetable gardens behind the single classroom.
The students here, aged from eight to 12, already know how to make things grow.
All 10 students come from seven grain-growing families, giving them a background awareness of crop rotations. Maize, irrigated rice, sunflowers, wheat, barley, oats, canola, cotton, cowpeas, millet and lentils are all familiar to these kids.
However, through their involvement in the Corinella Dreaming project, they have been extending this background into school-based activities that provide a strong appreciation of farming and how it functions within their broader climatic and geophysical surrounds.
Although the school is tiny and resources are limited, the energy and passion of the principal, Beverley Cartwright, and her small team are providing the students with an insight into their families’ industry.
A visiting geologist has taught them about the geological history of the area. Corinella was once underwater and abutting a volcano. From this, the students have learnt how the topography and weathering of the rocks have led to the various soil types in their region.
With this foundation knowledge, they have conducted soil tests on samples from all their family farms, learning about soil pH and texture, and comparing results from different properties. This has allowed them to appreciate how their family farms function in a broader geological context.
Through the school’s relationship with the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority (CMA) the students have learnt how to collect seed and propagate their own seedlings, which they then planted on a local farm.
There is an outdoor classroom down the road on the shores of Lake Cowal, where the students collect insects and seeds, and identify weeds, frogs and tree species.
They have amassed an impressive collection of weed samples, which they have compiled into a herbarium. This involved learning about the process of preserving plant specimens and labelling them with the correct scientific and common names, the date and location where the collection took place and the name of the child responsible.
However, it was an excursion late last year, part-funded by the GRDC, that has made the most lasting impression. The epic expedition took in more than nine million hectares and the students looked at cattle farming, a cotton gin, gypsum mine and irrigation systems. They collected soil samples and identified trees along the way, using the knowledge already gained through their work with Lachlan CMA.
Students spoke about the various farming systems they saw: “They were all different … some were irrigating, some were dry-planting; we saw all different types of crops,” one student said.
Their exposure to farming’s wider horizons, and the science that starts to make sense of what is happening on their farms, is giving them pause for thought about their futures. The school had no shortage of hopeful Olympic swimmers, motorbike racers, teachers, gold miners and policemen, but now … ?
Year 6 student Tom Maguire says straight up that he wants to be in cropping. Claire Peasley, Year 2, still wants to be a teacher, but adds, “but I also now want to help dad on the farm”.
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