A For Good Farming Adventure
Wednesday, 6th September 2017 at 8:54 am
The award-winning George the Farmer story app is helping to teach a new generation of Australians about life on the farm and where food comes from, writes Wendy Williams in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
George the Farmer is everyone’s friend. And along with his wife Dr Ruby, an agronomist who is “as talented as she is beautiful”, he has become one of Australia’s best loved fictional farming characters.
After being launched in regional South Australia in July 2014 as an interactive story app, the George the Farmer brand has gone on to win a host of awards, received glowing reviews and delighted children and adults alike.
But according to the creators behind the social enterprise, Simone Kain and Ben Hood, George and his Australian farming adventures simply grew out of a need.
“I was trying to find some inspirational and fun farming stories for my son George when he was about two and a half, as he was obsessed with the farm, and my husband is a farmer, and I couldn’t find anything,” Kain tells Pro Bono News.
“There are a lot of farming books, but they were sort of a little bit old fashioned I guess, there would be a farmer that would go out and milk the cow and collect a few eggs but there wasn’t really a character that was telling sequential stories about life on the land and agriculture, how it really and truly is in Australia.”
After realising there was a gap in the market Kain and Hood, who both grew up on farming properties and together run creative agency hello Friday, decided to put their marketing and design skills to good use, and George the Farmer was born.
While Kain may have started her career as a designer, she is now responsible for writing George’s adventures and pushing sales and marketing while Hood, who does the creative for George the Farmer, still remains dedicated to the agency, allowing them to keep up with both.
“I am pretty much 95 per cent George the Farmer, and Ben is probably the opposite with 95 per cent for hello Friday,” she says.
But Kain says it originally started as a way to bring additional revenue into the business, at a time when the world was “teetering on the global financial crisis”, but it quickly took off in ways the pair never imagined.
“To be honest, at the time… our local economy was having a bit of a downturn and we were actively trying to research ways that we could bring an additional, consistent revenue stream into the business, to help sustain us,” she says.
“So we were brainstorming and researching different ideas, and they were all sort of around app development. When we came up with the concept to develop this character and we thought ok, we’ll launch it as an interactive story app because apps are the way of the future, and then we can also use this app to try and get other app clients through our creative agency as well.
“So we started writing the first story and we really thought that that was all it was really going to be, just one or two stories on the app, but then it quickly took off and grew much bigger than that.”
What the pair found when they started researching for the first story was “staggering statistics” that highlighted a distinct lack of education for children both in Australia and globally, on where food comes from.
“The Australian Council of Educational Research study in 2012 revealed that 45 per cent of Australian year 6 kids didn’t associate everyday lunchbox items like a banana or a piece of cheese or some bread, as originating from a farm,” Kain says.
“One third thought yogurt came from a plant, and 75 per cent thought cotton came from an animal.”
Kain says the figures showed there was a massive disconnect.
“People don’t have any connection back to regional areas, like we used to in the past. We used to always have cousins and other family back in regional areas, if you lived in the city but it is just not the case anymore,” she says.
“I think that disconnect is there and because of that, we’ve also stopped talking about where food comes from, so a big part of George the Farmer is, obviously having fun and trying to connect people, and kids, back to the land as well as agriculture, but just also encouraging parents and teachers to start initiating conversations in their own homes or in the classroom about where food comes from.”
George the Farmer has now become a way for children to learn about farming practices along with how food and fibre (natural fabrics) are produced, and even discover potential careers on the land.
As part of their impact as a social enterprise 50 cents from the sale of each of their books, which are printed in South Australia using vegetable inks, is reinvested into educational resources, which have been developed by a qualified teaching consultant.
The resources are aligned to the Australian school curriculum and aimed at Foundation to Year 4 levels covering subjects including Literacy, Music, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
There is also a big focus on female roles in agriculture which Kain says tries to “highlight the fact that women have made such a vital contribution to Australia’s primary industries”.
The work in this area led to Kain being named the winner of the 2017 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rural Women’s Award, in February.
She was also the 2015 NAB Women’s Agenda Regional Entrepreneur of the Year, a finalist in the 2015 Telstra Business Awards and the 2015 South Australian RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year Awards.
Kain says it was important for them to give something back to the community, both locally and nationally.
“We have fun with the products that we produce but it is important to us to sort of be able to give back at the same time,” she said.
She said it was good to see George evolving and reaching new audiences.
“[It] probably began originally with people who are connected to farming and in regional areas who could resonate with George and Ruby, and their stories, and then it grew to, I guess, an educational segment where we came across the fact that educators were looking to teach their kids in the classrooms about food and fibre and they need to be able to teach about sustainability and they’re wanting to teach obviously STEM subjects,” she says.
“Because agriculture is so broad, all of those subjects can be taught perfectly while also teaching topics of ag, so we also created these very educational resources to make it easier for teachers to then introduce their children to George and Ruby in the classroom.”
But she says their biggest challenge is still reach.
“So we have a big following regionally but just trying to penetrate inner city locations is probably our biggest challenge,” she says.
“But once people come across George they really form an affiliation with the character and what the brand is all about so it is just a matter of us getting in front of people.”
As part of this Kain, Hood and a George mascot do live performances around the country, dancing and singing songs including; The Food in the Fridge is From the Farm, Ain’t No Party Like a Pulse Party and We Love Beef.
“The kids really love them,” Kain says.
“[We have] all these funny songs and we have dance moves that go with them and the kids get up and dance with us and we do a live book reading of one of our stories and so when the kids see it and the parents see the kids interacting, they do their format affiliation and then help to promote what we’re doing.
“And so getting out and about amongst different regional and city communities has been really important for us in expanding our reach but it is something that we definite need to keep working on.”
For the next step, the pair are hoping in the future George may find a home on TV screens.
“We’re currently working with a production house out of Sydney to develop a series reel for George to pitch to broadcasters to go on television, which is really exciting,” Kain says.
While back at home, Kain says her son George only recently found out his part in the creation of the now beloved character.
“I guess I’d never told him, because it was a real character for children, I only told him I think it was this year and he said ‘oh really, thanks mum’,” she says.
“He’s probably just that little bit past that target age now, he’s seven and a half, but his younger brothers Frank and Louis, are big fans of George and always bopping around to his music and are quite surprised when George turns up every now and then.”