In sea­son

NZ Gardener - - News - Want to go? Lo­cal coun­cils some­times list Ag Days on their web­sites and some schools also list theirs on

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.

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