Agriculture on the Menu

Agriculture has an image problem. Sadly this is a statement I can make and non-one will contradict me. What is interesting is the silver bullet solutions that our sector puts forward to fix this.

The first one is always the TV campaign. First and foremost as mentioned numerous times in my blog, we (the agriculture sector) don’t have the multi-million dollar budgets required to run TV campaigns.

Secondly I am flabbergasted how many people in the agriculture sector think that the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program will solve all our woes.

Now don’t get me wrong this program is a great concept but lets put it into perspective with regards to agriculture and get a clear understanding of the role of the program.

Lets start with some things you might not know. The SAKGF ( Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation ) receives around 16 Million dollars in government funding. On top of this the big corporate GPT group have poured significant funding into the program

The vast majority of government funding comes from the Department of Health and the foundation has DGR (deductible gift recipient) status with the Australian Tax Office as a health Initiative.

The program is for students in years 3-6 only. The emphasis on the program is growing, cooking, sharing ( i.e. Sitting down and eating at a set table). In reality its frightening that the later even needs to be taught at school. We don’t sit at the table too often at our house either.

Each schools receives an initial grant of $70K-$90K to establish a kitchen and a garden. Thereafter costs are borne by the school, including for a part-time gardener/kitchen aid. This is approx. $45K to $60K pa for a school to raise themselves.

The primary purpose appears to be fighting childhood obesity and introducing new foods to children.

If we then look at the program as an “awareness raising” and “interest generating” activity for agriculture here are some of the messages I believe its sending. In the first instance its subsidised “agriculture” at its highest level. After the first round “subsidy” is spent then the school soon finds out farming costs you a lot of money. Then there is the lack of triple bottom line messages. What I mean by this is where does natural resource management come in, or lessons on agriculture’s contribution to the GDP or images and perceptions about career pathways in agriculture? Or innovation, technology and efficiency gains for that matter?. I could go on forever.

I am pretty confident Stephanie Alexander doesn’t see the program as an introduction to agriculture. Why does agriculture?

My role on the National Agribusiness Education, Skills and Labour Taskforce (NEST) has shown me and all other participants that whilst agriculture has over 1000 activities in schools there are less than 4 organisations whose core business is “awareness raising” and “interest generating”and they get a minimal amount of government funding.

We do however have quite a few organisations that are government funded in the participation (Tertiary education, skills and labour) space.

Yes agriculture, we have do have an image problem and that is because we haven’t got our priorities right.  The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program is not our magic bullet but the program is great example of when you get your act together and get smart you can access a considerable amount of public good money to get your story out there.