SEVERAL years ago when I bought some jeans from a cool little shop, the young, Melbourne-born Italian shop assistant asked what I had been up to that week.
I reeled off a few jobs - “What’s marking calves?" he asked, and I casually remarked it involved putting an ID tag in the ear and chopping the nuts off the boys.
At this point his jaw nearly hit the floor, in between his pointy white snakeskin shoes. When I suggested that he lay down with legs apart and I’d show him my technique, he missed the joke - it was an awkward moment for us both.
“I didn’t even know people like you still existed!” he said, and I questioned where he thought the beef for his nonna's bolognaise sauce came from. He laughed and said “from the packet at the shops” - and I decided another awkward silence was necessary to drive home the naive stupidity of what he just said. It worked.
We all know that there’s an increasing un-awareness of inner city Australians about where their food and fibre comes from, but it’s not their fault.
Our rich agricultural history that once rode on the sheep's back, or sat proudly in the saddles from northern cattle stations, is perhaps fading.
Tertiary agricultural enrolments may be up this year, but as of next year there will be no undergraduate agricultural courses in any Sydney universities, only a food and agribusiness degree. And with Coles and Woolworths sharing 80pc of the supermarket scene, children spend time in the meat section sneakily poking holes in that tight cling film wrap on meat trays, not peering with fascination at the carcase behind the man in a blue apron and gumboots at the butchery.
There’s still a group of people I meet in cities that love chatting about the holidays on their grandparents' farm, or when they rode the quad bike on their uncle's place. But that’s not enough to sustain or enrich their agricultural awareness.
But wait - before you storm around Melbourne lifting up rocks trying to find the jeans salesman who needs a good serve of bush oysters (fresh pan-seared testicles), rest assured not all is lost.
Over the past month I’ve been witness to some exciting initiatives in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, giving young people in farming and agribusiness professional development, communication skills and ways to engage with people of all walks of life.
Young Farming Champions run by Art4Agriculture, the Horizons Scholarship by RIRDC and programs operated by RAS NSW are just a few. These organisations are feeding a killer crew of passionate, young farmers and agribusiness professionals with training and information that will deliver a deeply penetrating agricultural message throughout Australia.
School kids in towns and cities will hear about their upbringings growing cotton, wool or beef. Universities will see them running groups and societies developing awareness in students. And we’ll no doubt see them on the fronts of newspapers involved at all levels of the industry delivering a strong message.
They’re not all from farming families or even country towns, but all share a burning passion for food and fibre production. Who says you have to be a fourth gen farmer to be highly regarded or represent the industry?
Their diversity, energy, training and of course years of industry experience is just what all jeans wearers - and jean sellers - in Australia need.