Mick Buckworth, like many of his ancestors, loves being on the land.
The farm manager of Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative in Shepparton, in regional Victoria, said the skills he has developed – from knowing how to plant “kangaroo tails” to carefully putting traditional beehives together – were both valuable and satisfying.
Buckworth will soon be sharing those skills with a group of First Nations trainee farmers, who will undergo training in regenerative practices as part of a new pilot scheme. Regenerative farming involves practices focused on conservation and rehabilitation of the natural environment.
“A lot of our young people don’t go on to tertiary education so acquiring higher academic skills is not on their radar – but a lot of their ancestors worked on the land,” Buckworth said.
“The beehive boxes we make are traditionally handmade, put together piece by piece.”
The Victorian government will this week unveil the First Nations farming pilot program designed to improve the skills of Aboriginal agricultural workers and develop business opportunities for native products.
The $980,000 program will support about 30 trainees develop skills in regenerative farming at Outback Academy Australia.
The academy is an Indigenous-led not-for-profit that focuses on inclusive and traditional approaches to agriculture. Its Follow the Flowers initiative is designed to help Aboriginal-led farming businesses using regenerative practices, with business opportunities for products like honey.
The business development lead at the academy, Yorta Yorta man Neville Atkinson, said the pilot would help share traditional First Nations farming techniques to tackle issues like food sustainability.
“We can apply our own philosophies and understanding back to the land to be able to get a more rounded outcome socially and economically,” Atkinson said.
“The value of protecting, appreciating, respecting the land and an environment – that was embedded in my cultural philosophies.”
The pilot will take place at four Indigenous-run farms in regional Victoria, with a focus on culturally appropriate and traditional practices. It will also help fund about 20 short courses to provide further training and employment avenues for First Nations farmers.
The government plans to use the pilot to help create up to 20 new short courses and support further training and employment pathways, with information provided to other First Nations farms in Victoria and across the nation.
Victoria’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Gabrielle Williams, said the scheme would help continue the “proud and ancient traditions” of First Nations people.
The state’s skills and training minister, Gayle Tierney, said the project would help place First Nations people “at the centre of contemporary farming practices” to help strengthen the state’s agricultural industry.