George Kain is a typical Aussie farm kid; he’s obsessed with machinery, the outdoors, and all the ups and downs of farm life. But when his graphic designer mum, Simone, started searching for Apps and books on his favourite topic, she discovered an educational drought of sorts - there was very little Australian farming content in the marketplace.
“The Apps were either American or English and used terms such as ‘barn’ instead of shed and ‘field’ instead of paddock,” Simone explains. “There also wasn’t a character worldwide in television, on the App market or in books who was telling sequential stories about farming and life on the land. Where was the Bob the Builder of the farming world? I couldn’t believe he was missing!”
The seeds were sown; Simone and her business partner, Ben Hood, put their own farming backgrounds and media skills to work, and created a fun Australian character for children. Here, Simone introduces us to George the Farmer…
Our mate George is a smart, loveable farmer who also happens to be obsessed with sport. With his trusty dog Jessie by his side, he tackles the day-to-day farm activities with a can-do attitude and, most importantly, a big smile. His talented agronomist wife, Dr Ruby, is a true partner who is always there to lend a helping hand or offer some expert advice – after all, 43 per cent of the Australian agricultural workforce is made up of women. The young Farmer twins, Lucy and Jack, also love to pitch in and help their parents, and the importance and power of teamwork shines through every time in their Australian farming adventures.
Ben and I were raised on sheep and cropping properties in SA’s Limestone Coast, and my parents also owned a livestock transportation business for 30 years, so I grew up surrounded by livestock agents, truck drivers and farmers. My husband, Justin, is also a farmer, so like George, our connection to the land is strong, and we are passionate about living and working regionally. George and his mates are really inspired by our own lives.
We had no idea what the response would be like after launching George... the App soon hit the number one position on the iTunes chart...George the Farmer, Director, Simone Kain
We first released George to the market in July 2014 as an interactive story App, following George, Ruby and Jessie the Kelpie as they sow a wheat crop. In addition to explaining the planting process and highlighting the foods that are created from wheat, the App also includes a memory game, a colouring-in game, and a songs section featuring sing-along hits like ‘Mate, where’s my next sheep?’ and ‘We Love Beef’.
We had no idea what the response would be like after launching George. We knew our own kids loved him as they had been the test dummies, but we really couldn’t gauge what the uptake would be like. The App soon hit the number one book position on the iTunes chart where it fluctuated for many months in the top 10. And since the release, it has also been listed in the top 10 educational Apps for New Zealand and Australia, attracting 5-star ratings and fantastic feedback.
The focus is on farming practices along with food and fibre production, and people have been so positive and enthusiastic about George and what he stands for. Barnaby Joyce commented: “(George the Farmer) will help young children better understand life on an Australian farm and help raise the profile of farming in a positive way.” We have also won numerous awards such as the NAB Women’s Agenda Rural Entrepreneur of the Year for 2015, BrandSA/Flinders University Education Award, 2015 Women in Innovation Award and we were a finalist in the South Australian Telstra Business Awards.
The first story has now been released in book format along with a second story, ‘George the Farmer Shears a Sheep’; a CD of fun and educational farm songs; a small stage show and two free Australian school curriculum-aligned Teacher’s Guides. The guides include many interactive classroom activities based around the STEM subject areas (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) focusing on wheat and wool production as well as pulses.
They also feature some literacy-based activities, and we have had some fantastic feedback; one teacher from a small country town in Victoria told us that one of her year one students hadn’t written any more than a page for the whole year. After learning about George, she wrote six pages for her project - and it was all about planting a wheat crop!
George is also very active on social media sharing stories from producers, videos, photos, facts and news. The idea here is that the general public can learn about farming practices on the go and then initiate conversations with their children, nephews, nieces and grandchildren in their own homes about food and fibre origins. As we discovered during our research and development phase, it is a message that needs to be shared far and wide!
In 2012, a survey conducted by the Australian Council of Educational Research and the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia asked students if yoghurt came from a plant. Almost 30 per cent said yes. Meanwhile, 75 per cent of Australian year 6 students believed cotton came from animals, while 45 per cent could not identify that everyday lunch box items such as a banana, bread or cheese originated from a farm.
In the United Kingdom, survey results have revealed that almost 50 per cent of young adults don’t know that milk comes from a dairy cow!George the Farmer, Director, Simone Kain.
In March this year, cook, restaurateur and food writer, Stephanie Alexander, revealed similar results which indicated a quarter of Australian kids don’t know where cheese or butter comes from. And in the United Kingdom, survey results have revealed that almost 50 per cent of young adults don’t know that milk comes from a dairy cow!
Statistics from the farm itself are looking equally grim. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a dramatic decrease in the number of people remaining in farming as a career, with approximately 300 farmers leaving the industry per month for 30 years prior to 2011. That’s 108,000 farmers’ voices silenced, 108,000 farming stories we’ll never hear. Meanwhile, the United Nations has predicted that by 2050, food production worldwide needs to increase by 60-70 per cent to feed our growing population.
This lack of knowledge in our children about farming practices along with food and fibre production, the decline of people taking up or remaining in farming as a career, and the increased requirement of food to feed us all, could cause serious implications for future food security. And now, fast forward to 2050 and have a think about the people who will be dealing with these critical food security issues. They’re more than likely today’s babies or toddlers.
In order to make educated decisions about food, people must know and appreciate how food is produced, and we are hoping that George the Farmer is the answer. Not only do we need a character who is fun and entertaining, but we need a character who can be educational and who can help bridge this growing knowledge gap. George is resonating with people who are passionate about the environment, hail from farming backgrounds or who are involved in agriculture. Children are proud that there is now a character with a similar career to their parents: “It makes me feel proud because we make the produce” one little fan told ABC Landline during a segment that they aired on George the Farmer.
George is becoming a voice of Australian agriculture – a voice which is non-pervasive and light-hearted. People involved in agriculture are passionate about their industry and understand the important role that they play in providing food for our nation and others. But how do we encourage regular consumers to take an active interest in how their food is produced and where it comes from? Through his affable approach, George has the potential to connect with a broad demographic to initiate change.
By educating both rural and city children about farming practices along with food and fibre (fabric) production through stories, songs, games and activities, we hope that George the Farmer will:
There are so many different things that we can do with George and places that we can take him, and we have travelled extensively across the country. George was invited to perform at the Alice Springs Show and the Felton Food Festival in Queensland most recently, and in March, we delivered 80 shows over 14 days straight in the Sydney Royal Easter Show’s Food Farm. That was a mammoth effort by our small team, and the audience response has reinforced that city kids find George equally as engaging as our established country fan base.
We have started producing 10-minute clips of George out and about on the farm, and the first one highlights potatoes from the paddock to the kitchen to the plate. We have released some merchandise including an Australian-made out of Australian cotton children’s t-shirt and a George cuddle doll. Given that 94 per cent of Australian cotton is exported, this was quite a task to accomplish, however it has helped us to be able to tell a cotton story around the t-shirt as well. A dairy story from Ruby’s perspective, a Ruby Farmer doll and a baby board book ‘Numbers on the Farm’ will also be released in time for Christmas.
Feel free to have a chinwag with George on his various social media channels; he has more than 21,000 followers on Facebook, and he also posts a mixture of agricultural and educational news content on Pinterest, Twitter, Vine, Periscope and Instagram. Photos and videos of the everyday activities that happen on the farm like drafting sheep, loading cattle on to trucks, seeding lucerne, harvesting onions and potatoes, pumping water to windmills and cleaning troughs are always incredibly popular.
We have also featured a few farmers through a ‘farmer spotlight’ post which has received some great feedback, and we love to highlight new modern farming innovations as the ‘gate’ posts are constantly changing.
Do you have a story that you’d like like to share with George the Farmer? We would love you to join the conversation!
George the Farmer is created by Simone Kain and Ben Hood, directors of creative agency Hello Friday, which is based in the Limestone Coast of South Australia. Simone writes the George the Farmer books and Ben illustrates George's books and performs George's songs. They produce work for various businesses and organisations linked to primary industries and education. In 2015, they were awarded the South Australian Flinders University Education Award and were finalists in the Telstra Business Awards.