Judy Stuart was a dairy farmer until she realised her true passion for helping young people to achieve their farming dreams. She established the Future Farmers Foundation and went from breeding cattle to grooming farm managers.
From a young age, Judy Stuart had an interest in animals and farming. Though she wanted to further her education in the field of agriculture, as women were not permitted to study this in a tertiary institution in South Africa at the time, she was met with opposition. Even without a formal qualification, her determination led her to educate herself. Despite the scepticism of many experienced farmers, she started with three cows on a small holding and eventually became one of South Africa’s most revered dairy farmers. She went on to contribute to farming publications and represented our country at global dairy farming conferences, developing a reputation for herself internationally, something that would be of great benefit to many others years later.
Passion for the development of the youth
Working on a dairy farm, Judy often encountered young people who were deeply passionate about farming, but lacked the money or resources to develop their skills and realise their dreams. Having overcome adversity to realise her own farming ambitions, she empathised with these aspirant farmers. Even though she herself did not have the resources to help them, she used her connections to do what she could. In 2006 she established the Future Farmers Foundation to help these people achieve their dreams.
The Future Farmers Foundation
The Future Farmers Foundation identifies young passionate aspirant farmers from impoverished rural communities and arranges apprenticeships for them on local commercial farms. Here they get to earn while they learn. From learning about more menial jobs to understanding managerial responsibilities, the intensive apprenticeships give them a very well-rounded understanding of the running of a farm. The foundation also helps them to identify which aspects of farming they are most passionate about, whether it be dairy, beef, goats, poultry, crops, horticulture, flowers or anything else. It then mentors them to achieve their specific goals.
If the apprentices excel at their work on the local farms, after about two years the foundation arranges 12-month apprenticeships for them overseas. To date, interns have been placed in world-class farms in New Zealand, the USA, Australia, Germany and Denmark. This exposes the apprentices to amazing opportunities to travel and experience different farming cultures, while also learning about cutting-edge farming methods and new technologies. After paying back the cost of their flights and visas (to enable other apprentices to have the same opportunities), they are also able to earn some foreign currency for themselves and their families.
When the apprentices return to South Africa they do so with advanced expertise and a great deal of confidence. While Judy and her foundation do help them to find employment on their return, their new skills often land them high-paying managerial positions. They also frequently start their own ventures, often in partnership with the farmers they have worked with in the past.
The apprentices are also often very active in uplifting their own communities and passing on some of the very valuable farming skills that they have acquired. No one is oblivious to the vast differences in the profitability of predominantly white-owned commercial farms and that of predominantly black-owned subsistence farms. As historically not everyone has had the same access to land and adequate training, before the establishment of the Future Farmers Foundation there were very few black farmers who had the expertise to run large commercial farms. Not only is Judy and her foundation addressing the issue of rural unemployment, but they are also addressing the problem of poor farm management which often hinders production and prevents farms from reaching their full economic potential.
Inyathelo Award for Philanthropy in Economic Development
The Future Farmers Foundation sent its first apprentice overseas in 2007. By 2018 the programme was operating in six provinces with over 500 participants. Since its establishment hundreds of people have benefited both directly and indirectly from the amazing opportunities it has created. It’s no wonder that in 2015 Judy won the Inyathelo Award for Philanthropy in Economic Development, and in 2018 a Klaus J. Jacobs Award for social innovators and change makers in the field of child and youth development. The simple but innovative model has generated interest from organisations in other countries including Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Mauritius and Colombia interested in recreating the same model.
While the COVID-19 outbreak has created some challenges (especially with regards to the international internships), the Dairy Group commends the Future Farmers Foundation on its good work in upskilling future farmers, placing apprentices on farms, mentoring them and creating entire careers for people who would otherwise not have the opportunities to pursue them.