Without a led steer in sight, Barker College is revolutionising the way agriculture is perceived and taught as a subject, and the Sydney school now has the highest number of ag students in NSW.

Story Mandy McKeesick  Photo Courtesy Barker College

There’s a steak on the barbie at Barker College in Hornsby, in Sydney’s northern suburbs, but this is no cheap slab of supermarket beef. This is $275/kg Wagyu and it is being cooked by Year 12 agricultural students, who have anticipated this day for 4 years. “This is potentially the most expensive steak they will eat in their lives and they are aware of the privilege it conveys,” agricultural teacher Dr Alison Gates says. “But this is a milestone moment and I’m proud of these kids, with no farming experience, taking an interest in where their food comes from. Even if they don’t follow a career in ag, even if they don’t do anything ag-related, we’re making really informed consumers.”

The ag program, which nearly closed in 2008 due to low student numbers, has undergone a revolution under the stewardship of Scott Graham and his team, who are known affectionately as the ‘ag crew’ by appreciative students. “We have positioned agriculture as a science in the same way as chemistry or biology, and by making it more academic we have attracted the more academically talented students,” Scott says. “That makes it a better cultural fit for our school. We work on plate to paddock, not the other way around, and build student engagement by relating ag to what they eat and wear. We make ag relevant and are changing the way the industry is perceived.”

Over the past decade, 80–90 Barker students have sat agriculture in the HSC each year. “As far as I can tell that’s 2–3 times more than any other NSW school,” Scott says. In 2023, more than 400 students have elected to study agriculture from years 9 to 12, which is approximately one-third of the students in those years, and agricultural staff numbers have increased from 2 to 7. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #149

Outback Magazine: June/July 2023