Neil Ross suggests new and classic shrub pairings for spring wow-factor.
Months out from the discovery and subsequent spread of cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, the official announcement from our local school that this year’s annual Agricultural Day will not accept entries for large animals was not completely unexpected. Ours is not the only school in the shrinking Auckland countryside to take this precautionary measure, but equally, many other country schools seem to be sticking to tradition and encouraging their students to enter a hand-reared calf, lamb, goat or chicken for judging.
Personally, I won’t miss the calves. I will stick to cooing over the cottony spring lamb and her proud pretty-in-pink owner wearing matching pink headbands, as I did two years ago. I will again let the outlandish and ticklishly entertaining plumage of frizzle chickens tempt me to start keeping chooks (note to self: get a grip!). As for the pet guinea pigs and rabbits, well I can afford to be generous and declare them so adorable because I know I won’t have to host them in my own home. And let’s hope they hold the pet-owner lookalike contest again!
My children won’t miss the calves either. These city kids couldn’t muster up a rural diorama with some shovelled dirt and ferns plucked from the garden if it wasn’t a compulsory Ag Day project (and if I didn’t change the wifi password until they’d finished it).
But I have a healthy appreciation and respect for history and heritage anywhere in the world, and Ag Days have been a charming – and frankly, fluffily irresistible – entry point into New Zealand’s rural character and identity. (Where schools have Ag Days, I have learned, there will likely be amazing annual A&P shows that are not to be missed – but that is a story for another time.)
Ironically, I had never heard of Ag Day until I moved to New Zealand’s biggest city.
This was some years ago, but like any new convert, I am aghast at the indifference to, and yes, even ignorance of, this amazing new thing I have discovered. What? A Kiwi child who has never touched a quadruped bigger than a pet dog? Holy horseshoe!
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Spring is Ag Day season for country schools.
And even in this bustling city, there will likely be an Ag Day less than an hour’s drive away, some on a Friday afternoon but also many on a Saturday to make it a great family day out. Depending on which school you go to, there will be horticultural exhibits and plant sales, pony rides and bouncy castles, barbecues and Mr Whippy, raffles and lucky draws, and plenty of events to showcase the attractions of their region and the talent of their students.
Take plenty of cash and don’t hold back.
Ag Day is a key fundraising event that parents, teachers and volunteers have poured their time and their hearts into.
Funds would most likely go to new classrooms or perhaps a school garden, teacher support and class resources, and maybe even breakfast or lunch for kids who need them.
Most of all, you will see the community putting its best feet and hooves forward, and that’s a joyous thing to see.
I am grateful we have got a few Ag Days under our belt before my children age out.
It has been reported that many rural schools are closing because of declining rolls, though I’m not sure that applies to the ones in Auckland, judging by the new houses and roads being built, and some schools already bursting at the seams even before more young families have moved in to the area.
Still, it feels like a seminal time for city fringe Ag Days (or perhaps I’m just overly sentimental because we are, in fact, ageing out this year). How many more best-in-show ribbons are there to be won? Will aspiring young farmers ever show their calves again? Who can say – but don’t say I didn’t tell you, city slickers.
Alas! No calves at this year’s Ag Day. It is a blow. Sure some of us had seen it coming, but that is little comfort now.
Children walking with their calves during the Egmont Agricultural and Pastoral (A&P) Show at Hawera.