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Judy Stuart

Founder of Future Farmers

Judy Stuart left school in 1969 and although she came from a farming family, they were not open to the idea of a girl farming. Agricultural colleges were also not open to women at that time. “This was a challenge to me as all I wanted to do was farm. My parents sent me to a secretarial school where they tried to teach me shorthand and typing. I was like a fish out of water. What I found out is that if you put someone in a position or a job where they don’t have an interest or the passion, they are never actually going to be happy.”

Although following her passion was hard, Judy did not give up and she started her dairy with three cows. For the first five- or six-years Judy milked the cows twice daily – on her own – even when she was milking 40 cows. “I got up every morning without any days off and I milked the cows in the morning and again in the afternoon. It was what I wanted to do.”

A real passion

Future Farmers started off with three young school boys Judy met at a youth show who had done very well training young heifers and had been in the provincial team. The boys were about to finish school but unfortunately none of them had the funds or academic achievements required for further education. Discovering that they were likely to be unemployable mortified Judy as she recognised the talent that the boys had for farming and couldn’t bear to see it wasted. “I saw in these young people a real passion and I could identify with them,” she reflected.

As Judy was a dairy farmer and knew a lot of other dairy farmers, she asked them to take on these passionate young people. She requested that they be paid a minimum wage and that she would help with mentorship, which would be soft skill based. “One of those boys ended up managing a dairy of over 1000 cows, another has his own beef farming business today and manages beef farms for other people,” said Judy.

“Those young people ended up going overseas on internships where they spent a year in another country. The first one went to Germany, which was an incredible experience for him. He phoned me after the first week of being there and said, ‘Judy they have got no workers’. He and his employer were looking after a whole dairy farm. What he learnt there was invaluable.”

An incredible experience

Judy’s intention was not to start an organisation but to help three young lads. The following year their friends phoned her, asking if she could help them as well. “Obviously I couldn’t say no and the year after that I got more calls. Eventually I closed down my own dairy because there was so much work to do, that I couldn’t do both. It has been an incredible experience for me.”

Future Farmers, which is based in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, was founded in 2006 and is an organisation working with youth between the ages of 18 and 26 years old, mainly from remote rural communities. Its goal is to develop these young people into commercial farmers. “It’s very exciting to help set these young people on a career path. It is really not that hard to create an opportunity for a young person to start to develop a career,” explained Judy.

As agriculture has such a vast number of sectors, Future Farmers really focuses on what each farmer loves doing, which can be anything from vegetable farming to poultry to rabbits or dairy. “If someone wakes up every morning and does something that they love, they are going to be successful – it’s hard to fail,” explains Judy. Future Farmers does not pay for its participants to get through the process; they pay their own way. As such they are earning and learning. Although Future Farmers has funders, when the young farmers go overseas, they pay back their expenses so that another young farmer can travel overseas. Consequently, the donations received are being regularly turned over.

Creating opportunities

For Judy doing this work is a real privilege and it’s not something she does on her own. She says, “We have a team of unbelievably good people who are all committed and interested in what we are doing.” In reflecting on her work life balance, Judy says that she can’t really get away from her work. “I love these young people and I love the work that I am doing. The solution for me was to bring my family to the workplace. My husband, Ross, is now retired, and he helps us out a lot. Our daughter, Fiona, is involved, and she works specifically with the overseas internships.”

Future Farmers’ goal for the future is to reach more people and to set up offices in more provinces. At the moment, apart from KwaZulu-Natal, there are offices in the Western Cape and in the Free State.

In conclusion said Judy, “I think that it is critically important that Future Farmers is a small piece in the whole process of developing these people. The farmers themselves are our partners in this enterprise. We have farmers all over South Africa and overseas who are coming on board and creating opportunities for these young people.”

“There are so many stages that involve other people. Future Farmers wouldn’t be here without our sponsors who are investing in these young people’s lives and in agriculture, which puts food on the table for everybody.”

Judy Stuart
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