For the Love of Farming
At a Future Farmers open day at Cedara Agricultural College in April, a crowded hall heard the success stories from the graduates of the Future Farmers Foundation started by Howick based farmer Judy Stuart.
Judy Stuart who always wanted to farm, grew up in the sixties – an era when it was not the “done thing” for women to study agriculture, she eventually became a farmer after studying in a related field and doing a lot of self study and practical work. She proved herself and ended up as a highly successful cattle farmer. Many of her cattle won prize ribbons at the Royal Show – not bad for a woman!
Perhaps it was her own struggle to be recognised that ignited her passion for young black farmers who had a passion for farming but no access to skills or land. Stuart a very determined person decided to use her connections in the local farming community and abroad and she developed the concept of Future Farmers.
Her idea was that if South Africa was to have a successful land transition and black farmers were to successfully manage commercial farms they would have to have the necessary training. For Stuart the most important qualification for those entering the programme was a burning desire to work on a farm.
The first Future Farmer was sent abroad in 2007 for experience and training, this experience was invaluable and Stuart believed that all her protégés would benefit from this exposure. But before they can go overseas they must first apprentice locally with a farmer and prove they have the passion and commitment.
Stuart works at raising funds and getting grants to make sure her students get their chance to go overseas. While not directly mentoring them daily she offers them telephone contact and regular meetings to make sure they are on track.
At the Future Farmers open day last month, a few of the successful farmers who have been through the program came to explain to other hopefuls how they had enjoyed the programme and also to warn them that the road to success would be paved with a lot of hard work.
Stuart told the audience that many people thought that farming was about sitting on the stoep drinking tea and watching the mealies grow. “Farming is one of the hardest jobs you can choose to do, if you are scared of hard work then you had better choose another career.”
Guest speaker Andrew Makenete, a former farmer and investment consultant said farmers were undervalued. “Don’t criticise farmers if you have food in your mouth.”
He said the country needed more young black farmers in decision making positions. “Too often you see young people as farm labourers. The farms are in the control of the older generation and they do not know how to farm in a productive manner. “Times have changed – we need young blood and we need to learn from those who know what they are doing.”
A few young men at the open day told their stories. Fortune Mdluli went to the USA to learn how to be a greenkeeper, he went to one of the most prestigious golf clubs and did amazing work. Njabulo Gumede went to a huge dairy farm in Australia. Mzwandile Dube learnt about permaculture and his passion is to teach people how to grow their own food.
These men came across as confident, happy and capable. Before their internship many of them were shy and naive. The program has turned them into shining examples of how nurturing and hard work can produce young leaders.
Some of them were shy rural boys who spoke halting English – a few years later they have skills and can speak confidently before a crowded audience . Their transformation makes Judy Stuart and her team proud.
The young men have been lauded by their overseas hosts who are amazed by the capabilities of their interns. Some have sent glowing letters of recommendation to Judy Stuart and the team praising the men.
Article by Trish Beaver