How will I spend $50K

This week I was honoured and humbled to receive agriculture’s newest and most prestigious accolade The Bob Hawke Landcare Award in front of 850 people at the Sydney Convention Centre.

 

As you can see from this picture I was pretty chuffed

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Me with National Young Landcarer of the Year and Young Eco Champion Megan Rowlatt

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The adorable John Carter from South East Landcare and Megan

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It was Michael’s first outing since his big op and he was determined to be there and he was pretty pleased that he pulled that off

The award comes with two extraordinary opportunities. Firstly I will receive a prize of up to $50,000 to develop my  knowledge and skills in sustainable land management and secondly I will also have an honorary position on the Australian Landcare Council for a period of two years.

So you may ask what am going to do with $50K. Well firstly I wont be spending on me .

What I would like to do is look at change and what drives change and what hinders change. I would like to look at this from three different angles. Firstly young people, secondly my generation and thirdly farmers in my region. My project will be cross industry and I look forward to meeting lots of new and exciting and dynamic thought leaders and doers in the agrifood sector.

I firmly believe farmers of today do not have the opportunity to access and develop the skills sets that will allow them to survive and prosper in 21st. Firstly we have to acknowledge that producing great food and fibre just isn’t good enough any more. Secondly we have just got to get out there more and build relationships with all the key players and pivotally get intimate knowledge and understanding of how the supply chain works.

We have got to be able predict what our customers are thinking before they think it.  We have to be able to predict what the processors and manufacturers are thinking before think it and we have to be able to predict what the supermarkets are thinking before they think it. We have to be at least one step ahead of the curve every step of the way. This will require expertise farmers have not traditionally had access to and my commitment to my fellow farmers is to change this paradigm in my lifetime.

My vision is for an exciting, dynamic, innovative and PROFITABLE agrifood sector that our next generation best and brightest see as a  career of first choice. My mission is to turn my vision into everyone’s vision and this will require government, industry, the community and farmers, in fact the whole of supply chain working side by side.

First stop for me is the Bush Capital next Tuesday where I have meetings with policy and decision makers as well as the opportunity to attend the DAFF Youth in Ag Think Tank and hear what the bright young minds see as the way forward for agriculture in this country

Let me re-share this reflection with you on why I farm and why I live and breathe my mission

I am often asked why I like being a farmer and to be honest it was never my lifelong dream to farm. I farm today because the people I most care about in the world farm and they are in it for the long haul.

I grew up on a farm and even though I enjoyed being hands on in the day to day running of the farm and the lifestyle that comes with it the idea of being a farmer was most definitely not on my list of top 10 professions.

I have been back on the farm for ten years now and I will be the first to admit farming is a highly rewarding profession for a multitude of reasons.

Today I will list just a few

Firstly farmers are an essential service, they feed people and whether people admit it or not everybody wants to be needed.

Secondly farming today is a very risky business and I like the mental intensity, the constant review process, the drive to get up each day and do it better. The fulfilling challenge of balancing productivity, people, animals and the planet

Thirdly inspirational people farm. Feeding, clothing and housing the world now and in the next 50 years is going to require an extraordinary effort. This means we need extraordinary people to take up the challenge. When I work with inspirational people, they light my fire, feed my soul and challenge me to continue to strive to make a unique contribution to agriculture and the community.

and then there is this

the satisfaction you get when you have managed to farm in a way that balances the needs of the rainforest and the animals who live there

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with farm productivity that allows you to supply 50,000 Australians daily with milk whilst at the same time ensuring your cows cow remain happy and healthy.

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the buzz you get when next gen share the passion and commitment

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the fascination of watching generations of cows tread the same path each time they walk into the paddock

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the amusement you get when the cow who detours to the water trough

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then charges down the paddock like a teenager to ensure she doesn’t miss out on the sweetest grass

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and the special relationships you develop with the people and the animals in your team

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the satisfaction of working with next gen

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Why I farm

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to turn this

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into this

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then this

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and today

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Picasso Corner a triumph for community partnerships, biodiversity and the farm

and then the raw reality of watching the circle of life each day. When the chickens you nurtured  from eggs are killed and eaten by a goshawk (thanks to twitter verse for identifying my nasty bird) and wake up next morning and remember the chickens got three weeks of a great life they wouldn’t have had without you interfering with nature. Even if in the end it was nature who decided they would play a different role in the food chain .

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I love to farm because its real, there is a true sense of place and time. There is an purity and an innocence that comes with a respect of the land that feeds us that living and working in the city will never deliver.

BTW Thank you so much to everyone for the emails, phone calls, flowers, twitter you have all been so wonderful with messages of congratulations. Totally overwhelming xoxoxo

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Tree Huggers Unite

Our guest blogger today is the gorgeous Megan Rowlatt who is a finalist in the National Young Landcare Leader Award and a Young Eco Champion and part of the Clover Hill Dairies eco team .  

Hi my name is Megan Rowlatt, and I hug trees

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Jamberoo Tree Hug

 

No really. I do. All the time. See…

RNP tree hug

Royal National Park Tree Hug

Positano italy tree hug

  Positano Italy Tree Hug

Grand Canyon tree hug

Grand Canyon USA Tree Hug

Growing up in the NSW coastal town of Corrimal with my mum, dad and younger brother, I had a wholesome childhood. Playing with other kids in our street until the street lights came on, climbing trees, playing in the bush along the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment after school, visiting local swimming holes in the national park, and with regular camping trips and family holidays to a range of destinations, this set the foundations for a keen sense of adventure, a desire to travel the world, and a love of our natural environment.

.Nan and pop from my dad’s side resided in a beautiful little country town called Crabbes Creek on the north coast of NSW. I spent many of my first years in the crystal clear creeks with my dad and our family dog and over the years developed an emotional connection to the landscape, particularly rainforests and fresh water bodies. I’m a sucker for a rope swing and a swimming hole.

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1 year old me and my dad in Crabbes Creek, NSW.

Growing up I was a keen bushwalker and still am. I love climbing things, especially mountains (even though I am secretly a little bit scared of heights. But don’t tell anyone. I like to look tough).

Path of the Gods, Amalfi Coast – Italy Austrian Alps Royal National Park

 

Kosciusko National Park NSW (me and my bro), Whistler Mountain Canada, Füssen – Germany

I’ve travelled the world (but not nearly enough of it) and love learning about other cultures, exploring new environments and letting my mind flow over the possibilities of where life will take me next. I love laughing, and I mean laughing hard, and I always surround myself with people who make me smile. But I always come home. There really is no place like home and travelling abroad and living away for a period of time helped to develop a deep appreciation of just how amazing our country is. Sometimes I am so awe-struck by the beauty of our landscape it gives me goose bumps. And when you love something so much and want to make sure it’s there for future generations to enjoy, you get involved.

My home…

My favourite swimming hole, Royal National Park

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Exploring the creek line, Royal National Park

My home (7)Lagoon

 

My local beach at sunset, and local lagoon North Wollongong, NSW

 

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My bike 

 

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And this is the view I am greeted with every time I come home from traveling.

After finishing high school I decided that I wanted to complete a degree in primary teaching figuring the lengthy school holidays would satisfy my desire to travel and allow more flexibility in the amount of time I could take off, but soon after commencing a Bachelor of Education degree I developed a love affair with my science electives. Through my first year of study I was so torn, I was spending more time with my two environmental science electives than my education subjects and things were getting out of control. After breaking down in tears to my dad one night crying “I don’t want to be a primary teacher anymore I want to be an environmental scientist (insert sooky stressed face)” he looked at me and plainly said “why are you crying you weirdo? If that’s what will make you happy, do it” and so I did, and immediately made the leap into Bachelor of Environmental Science degree’s arms at the University of Wollongong. (See ya education, you just weren’t the right one for me).

Having spent all of my life growing up in the Illawarra I began to get itchy feet and was craving a change of scenery so I moved to the Gold Coast in 2003 and transferred to a Bachelor of Science in Ecotourism. Working with people has always been in my nature, I spent many years working in bars and hospitality. Interacting and meeting new people was the biggest attraction for me in this industry so it was only natural that I would enjoy studying a degree which offered opportunities for me to explore the tourism industry as well as develop skills and knowledge in environmental science.

After spending four years away from home and taking advantage of the beautiful warm weather QLD has to offer, I began to miss our coast line (seriously, we really do have the best coastline in the world).

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See. It’s pretty amazing. (Me and my best friend)

I returned to Wollongong and was immediately employed as a casual Visitor Services Officer with NPWS working at Royal National Park. Being casual, I had some spare time and I wanted to continue to develop my knowledge around natural resource management (NRM), so I began to volunteer with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) where I started to really become aware of regional environmental issues. A position as Landcare Community Support Officer came up during my time as a volunteer with CVA. Looking at the selection criteria I didn’t think I had a chance but I applied anyway. The next day I had an interview and the day after that I was employed! Almost five years on, I am still loving the role.

Funded by Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and hosted by Conservation Volunteers Australia, as the Landcare Community Support Officer for the Illawarra region, my role is to assist Landcare volunteers, private landholders and farmers, as well as the wider community to develop skills and knowledge around natural resource management. This includes delivering training to build capacity of volunteers and individuals working in natural areas to carry out quality on-ground activities, engaging new volunteers into Landcare, managing and distributing online resources through newsletters, social media and a range of websites, and applying for a variety of grants to carry out environmental projects in the Illawarra region.

This job couldn’t be more perfect for me. I get to travel around the region and meet and work with loads of wonderful people. I love my volunteers and the groups I get to work with, they are just beautiful. I also am fortunate enough to be able to travel around the state for meetings and forums where I have an opportunity to share my experiences and be inspired by other NRM professionals and volunteers. I find managing online resources and developing resources such as newsletters satisfying as I am able to apply my own creative flair to these products.

Some of the places I get to see for work…

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Bermagui River at sunset NSW

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Little Blowhole, Kiama NSW

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Albion Park NSW

But after attending my very first state Landcare forum in Queanbeyan I was surprised to learn that there was a real lack of young people in the Landcare movement. Many existing groups were of retirement age and no significant new recruitment was occurring. So I started to question why this was the case and why I had been attracted to volunteering and what was lacking that was deterring younger people from joining.

 

In 2009 I set up Illawarra Youth Landcare and run the group in my own time. Illawarra Youth Landcare is a Landcare group exclusive for young people aged between late teens to early thirties. We travel around once a month and visit an existing Landcare or Bushcare group in the Illawarra and assist them with their on-ground work. This gives the host group an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with a younger generation and volunteers are able to explore the region and develop awareness about the environmental management issues we are facing. In addition to local projects I also organise overnight expeditions to other parts of the state. We partner up with other organisations and look at what other environmental issues persist beyond the Illawarra. These trips allow for volunteers to bond and develop friendships while giving something back to the environment.

To date we have a membership of over 70 people and over 120 followers on Facebook. Volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds and are motivated for all different reasons to volunteer with the group. The key is flexibility, variety and opportunity for a fun social experience. It’s all about having a good time because at the end of the day, if it’s not enjoyable people are not going to become involved. I wouldn’t. Landcare is just as much about the people as it is the environment, and gen Y are generally time-poor and prioritise study, career and social commitments. So it’s difficult to gain any long term commitment from volunteers of this demographic. So I simply try to cater to this.

Over the last few years we’ve been involved in some amazing projects, a highlight for me was the Hawkesbury Source to Sea paddle we did with Willow Warriors in 2010. On this extremely hot (43 degrees in fact) weekend, we paddled along the Colo River working with a range of different Landcare and Bushcare groups. The weekend was jam packed full of swimming, kayaking, more swimming, rope swings, BBQs and a few beers (which I also love), fishing and oh yeah, some bush regeneration and a whole lot of laughing!

Here’s a short video of our adventures so far…

 

 

In 2011 I was awarded the Be Natural Young Landcare Leader award for NSW and am now a finalist in the National Landcare Awards as the NSW representative under this category. This is a huge achievement and being nominated means a lot. But living in a country as beautiful and diverse as ours, I could never stand back and not be involved in making it a better place for future generations to enjoy the way I did.

You can check out more about Illawarra Youth Landcare at www.illawarrayouthlandcare.com.au