The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW celebrates 200 years with a focus on educating the next generation

For kids growing up in the city today, it can be hard to fathom that the milk your parents grab from the supermarket shelf actually comes from the udder of a cow standing in a pen.

Organizations like the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) of NSW play a role in educating students in the city about agriculture through the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

But 200 years after the RAS was conceived, its education focus has shifted far beyond those 12 days in April.

The organization now invites thousands of students to participate in a federally funded initiative known as Farm Days.

Throughout the year, students attend the Sydney Showground to see agriculture up close, from the automatic milking of cows to the life cycles of chickens and microns of wool.

RAS Education Manager Duncan Kendall teaches students where honey comes from. (ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

RAS education manager Duncan Kendall said their target group is metropolitan schools.

“Agriculture has seen a real push in terms of agritech and agribusiness,” Mr Kendall said.

“So it’s really interesting to show that you don’t have to just be a farmer on a field to be included in farming.”

Pennant Hills Public School Principal Matt Pinchbeck said Farm Days was a unique experience for many of their students.

“A lot of kids don’t get that opportunity to experience what life on the farm is like,” Mr Pinchbeck said.

A child pats a cow in a black and white image
The RAS has long facilitated children’s first interactions with animals. (Supplied: NSW RAS)

For some students, just getting close to an animal was a memorable event.

Farmer James Kemp travels from Queensland with his animals to attend Farm Days.

He opened a nursery on the farm about 25 years ago after reading that few children had the opportunity to interact with animals.

“We see kids here who might be a little worried when they get to the front lines,” Mr Kemp said.

“But…in all the sessions we did, we had every child inside the nursery.”

Mr. Kemp said the range of agricultural knowledge of the students and their teachers was extraordinary.

Follow the interests of consumers

The NSW RAS will celebrate its bicentenary on July 5, 200 years after a group of farmers came together with the aim of helping each other adapt to farming in a new land.

RAS Vice President John Bennett said from the start that the founders wanted to educate townspeople about agriculture.

“It’s a vital role for RAS, to connect the people of the city, and they’re so excited to learn about agriculture and see how things work,” Bennett said.

A man stands with ribbons on his arm in front of an old show pavilion.
RAS Vice President John Bennett says RAS strives to stay relevant by following consumer interests. (ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

But the organization is aware that, like agriculture, to stay relevant it must follow the interests of consumers.

Mr Bennett said the sustainability of producers was already being judged in some of their competitions and this could extend to other parts of the show, including the sheep and beef sections.

Foundation scholarships give rural students a boost

The RAS also strives to bridge the urban-rural divide through its Foundation scholarships.

Since 1917, funds have been raised to help students interested in living or working in rural and regional areas or industries.

A young woman kneels in a canola field
Chelsea Gordon says the RAS scholarship has provided her with significant financial assistance to undertake her university studies.(ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

Chelsea Gordon was one of 82 scholarship recipients this year.

The 19-year-old grew up on a farm in Barellan, southern New South Wales, and is now studying agricultural science at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

“It allowed me to study away from home with less financial burden,” Ms Gordon said.

“Being able to come home and help dad and then be able to come back and not have to worry about paying for accommodation and everything.”

At this point, she hopes to become an agronomist, working back in the Barellan region.

Lana T. Arthur