A helping hand for farmers

peter johnsTIM LAM

Like many young men in Australia, Peter Johns wanted to attend university and pursue a career in an industry of his choice. But tertiary education can be expensive; tuition fees, transport, textbooks and equipment all add up to create a significant financial hurdle. A person’s own financial circumstances may create an additional barrier to their career aspirations.

The Centre for Theology and Ministry (CTM) administers a range of bursaries for young people facing financial hardship. One of these is the John and Alexander McLennan Farm Training Fund. It assists young men in Victoria who seek training and education in the agricultural industry.

Peter Johns was the recipient of the farm training bursary in 2015. He is from Pheasant Creek in the Kinglake Ranges, one of the areas affected by the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. The bushfires had a significant impact on Mr Johns’ family and his schooling.

In the aftermath of the fires, the Kinglake community sought to rebuild their lives by offering care and support for one another. Throughout the past six years, Mr Johns and his parents have volunteered at Kinglake West Uniting Church’s weekly community meals.

The grant provided Mr Johns financial assistance as he pursued a Certificate III in Agriculture and a Diploma of Agronomy at Melbourne Polytechnic.

“The bursary enabled me to pay for expenses such as fees, books, protective clothing, safety boots, travelling to TAFE and excursions,” Mr Johns said.

“I purchased extra books to help with my studies and this assisted me with having a greater understanding of many topics. I could educate myself on specific areas of agriculture that were of interest and this information was very useful in assessments.”

In addition to classroom learning, Mr Johns also gained essential, hands-on experience working on a farm. The Melbourne Polytechnic campus at Yan Yean is a 600 hectare farm with sheep, cattle, crops and modern equipment.

“We undertook many tasks including planting and harvesting crops with agricultural machinery, and working with livestock,” Mr Johns said.

“I could learn in a safe, supervised environment with experienced teachers,”

During his studies, Mr Johns learnt essential water management skills, including how to manage pastures and crops in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

A highlight of his course was presenting two steers at the Royal Melbourne Show. It took Mr Johns several months to prepare and train the steers.

“We had to break them in as they had had limited human contact before,” Mr Johns explained.

“We had to learn how to do this properly and humanely as this would be a long process. Earning the trust at the start would be a benefit when they are paraded at the show.

“Over time we had them at a level where we could parade them in an arena at the Royal Melbourne Show with hundreds of people watching, while competing against other TAFEs and schools across the state.”

The CTM recently approved of further funding for the next 12 months, which will assist Mr Johns as he completes his studies. This year, he will undertake a Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology, run jointly though Melbourne Polytechnic and La Trobe University. This will bring him once step closer towards achieving his goal of working in the agricultural industry.

“I am very grateful for the John and Alexander McLennan fund and the opportunities it has given me to complete my course with many skills that I can take into the industry,” Mr Johns said.

“Without the bursary last year I would not be in a financial position to consider doing this degree this year.”

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