George the Farmer app brings Aussie farming to kids around the world

Before the sun was up this morning, 3-year-old Alex was gasping in horror as football-crazy “George the Farmer” missed a bleeping seed drill alarm.

“Oh no, there will be bare patches in the paddock,” the little fellow moaned.

"Oh no, there will be bare patches in the paddock!"

“Oh no, there will be bare patches in the paddock!”

George the Farmer is the brand new app that transported Alex and eight-year-old Zoe to the Australian wheat fields. It brings farmers and other Aussies together in such a charming way and I wanted to learn more, so contacted George the Farmer’s creators, Simone Kain and Ben Hood.

The pair are partners in regionally based creative agency, helloFriday (based in the south east of South Australia) and both Simone and Ben grew up on farms.

Simone hadn’t been able to find any Australian farming apps for her then two-year-old son, George. So, making use of their creative skills over a two-year period when business slowed, they wrote, illustrated, produced an animated children’s story book and game App, which we downloaded at iTunes.

GeorgeTheFarmer

Here’s Simone’s story:

Q: Tell me about this interesting farming character.

A: George the Farmer is everyone’s friend. With his trusty dog Jessie by his side, George tackles the day to day activities of Australian farming life with enthusiasm, a can-do attitude and most importantly a big smile. Unfortunately George’s obsession with sports often plays havoc with not being able to finish jobs off in their entirety! Lucky for George, his beautiful and talented wife Ruby is always there to lend a helping hand. The importance and power of team work shines through in George’s Australian farming adventures.

George’s personality was modeled off of a few local farming friends traits and the stories that form George’s adventures have generally been created from issues that have arisen on my husband Justin’s, family farm. Whenever Justin arrives home at night and tells me about a problem that he’d encountered on the farm that day, I quickly pen down a new story line! The challenges that face George and Ruby closely reflect and make fun of the daily tasks that make up farming life, which makes it amusing not only for the one to eight age group, but adults alike.

Q: Why a farming character?

A: Although I could find some farming Apps for my son George, they weren’t great and they were either very American or English using terms such as field, fall and barn, for example. There was definitely a gap in the market for a children’s story whose primary focus was on Australian farms. The more we researched the idea, the more it became apparent that both city and rural children could benefit in learning about farm practices and food and fibre production in a fun, yet simple way.

Q: What has the feedback been like so far?

A: It is only early, however the responses that we’re receiving back are amazing. People have started following George through social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) right across Australia and into New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada with App purchases so far in Australia, the US and Canada. Although George’s stories are based in Australia, it really seems to have international appeal. A follower from Perth wrote, “Fantastic! I have four little farm kids and the only farming apps for kids we’ve found have been American, which as we all know, is a fair bit different to our Aussie farm life!”

Q: What can you do with the App?

A: The App comes with the first story called, ‘George and the Seeder’ which follows George as he plants a wheat crop and then accidentally runs out of seed unknowingly. The story has a read to me function for those children too young to read, which has been narrated by ABC 891 (South Australia and Broken Hill) presenter Peter Goers, OAM, who has a really, lively voice that I think typifies a country Australia. The story can also be read on it’s own while still containing the additional farming sounds effects.

Along with the story there is also a memory game, colouring in game and a sing-a-long feature where the kids can sing-a-long to the George the Farmer theme song.

Children are enjoying the interaction of the story, being able to watch a tractor move, make a dog bark and a magpie warble, while at the same time unconsciously learning about aspects of seeding a wheat crop and what foods are produced from wheat.

My twin boys Louis and Frank (20 months) are crazy about the tractor and Jessie the dog in the story. They know how to use the iPad and out of the 40 or so Apps I have on the device, it is the main one that they like to open by themselves and use.

Q: The App has been welcomed across the agricultural industry with national media coverage, what’s in George’s future?

A: Ben and I are already deep in to the next George story which will be available as an in-app purchase through the current App in November. As long as there is interest in the character, we will continue to create stories and build on this App as well as others. Our dream would be for George to become a household name like Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam, also helping to highlight farming as a worthwhile career choice.

NOTE: I have not been paid to write this post, I just loved the app and thought you might, too!

Frugal farm fun

The green knight comes to a milk maid's rescue

The green knight comes to a milk maid’s rescue

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s fun.”

Silence

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s great!”
Alex: “It’s not great for Mama, Za Za.”
Zoe: (Dancing on the spot) “I LOVE IT!”
Alex: “But Mama doesn’t, don’t you Mama?”
Me: “No, Little Man.”

He was right: I wasn’t pleased to be stuck in the sticky sulphuric sludge of the gully but wind the clock back 35 years and it would have been a different matter.

I remember the delight of being bogged amidst the despair of my father. Every bogging was an adventurous departure from the daily grind, complete with desperate stuffing of the wheel tracks with bark and anything else that came to hand before spinning wheels sprayed mud from here to kingdom come as the fishtailing ute wrestled its way free.

I was reminded of all that as the three of us trudged (or skipped) across the paddocks back to the dairy at dusk and again this morning reading The Conversation’s article about the cost of raising children. It turns out parents are really no less wealthy than childless couples. One of the reasons offered by the Curtin University scholars rings true:

“When children are present, nights at home with the family, a simple visit to the park, or watching your child play sport may provide enjoyment that would otherwise be gained through income-intensive pursuits, such as holidays and going to restaurants. This is more than a direct substitution effect – parents’ own utility may increase at a lower level of financial outlay.”

The best things in life are indeed free.

A milkmaid’s dirty linen and why you shouldn’t see it

In the three years since I started Milk Maid Marian, I’ve written about everything we do here on the farm. I’ve got nothing to hide. Well, almost nothing.

You haven’t seen our kids running around starkers in the paddock because, goodness, there are some weirdos out there and, in any case, my little people deserve some privacy.

You haven’t seen much in the way of veterinary treatment, either. I’ve written about sick cows here and here, for example, but I’m not going to post a picture of a newly-lanced abscess; me in action using a tractor to lift a cow threatened with paralysis; or the face of a cow in recovery after eye cancer surgery.

Why not? Because it would be unfair. You might not want to see graphic images as you munch your muesli and, second, the images could be abused. In the name of a higher cause, it’s not unknown for activists to take images of cows being nursed back to health and portray them as abuse.

My family’s privacy and the potential for misleading the public are two reasons why I shudder to imagine activists creeping onto the farm or spying on us with drones. I’m naturally protective, so when an email came through from an animal welfare group on just this topic today, I read it with a sense of dread. Here’s part of what it had to say:

“Alarmingly, support for ag-gag legislation is slowly creeping into politics here in Australia.”

“Ag-gag targets undercover investigators, whistleblowers and journalists by criminalising the undercover surveillance of agricultural facilities or by requiring that any footage which is obtained must be turned over to enforcement agencies immediately rather than given to animal protection groups or the media.”

My farm – my home – is an “agricultural facility”, you see.

And, you know what? If cruelty on a farm was recorded, I’d want the information to get to the enforcement agencies immediately so the animals could be rescued straight away rather than whenever it fitted in with the media cycle, wouldn’t you?

The faraway tree: our little piece of forest on the farm

From the forest into the light

From the forest into light

This has been a tedious morning of fence repairs – bending staples in decades-old wobbly hardwood posts and untangling cantankerous strands of barbed wire – so when we found a tree over the fence in the bush block, the kids and I broke it with a little “adventure”.

Inside our boundaries lies just 11 hectares of largely unremarkable bush. But it is a wonder, too, full of secret paths, dripping lichen and toadstools. After early hesitation, the kids relished their chance to explore this forgotten forest, darting here and there down the wallaby tracks, ducking under monstrous spider webs and peering into mysterious hidey-holes.

Days like this, it’s great to be a milk maid!

A better snake trap for the Drover’s Wife

The twist of a tail was all it took to drive me and the kids indoors. Normally, prematurely extracting them from the sandpit is a big job but even an ebullient two-year-old can sense the importance of a “Don’t panic but…” message from his mum.

A snake (most likely a copper-head or tiger) had appeared at the bottom of Alex’s favourite climbing tree, just inches from the verandah and the children and I sat frozen in silence, listening to it swish through the dry leaves. And I am not Henry Lawson’s gutsy Drover’s Wife, for I am yellow to the core.

The drover’s wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.

Instead, I send the kids scurrying indoors while I deploy my secret weapon: the Snake Trap. Purchased a couple of summers ago after another close encounter of the scaly kind, the trap has been waiting for just this moment.

She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls – mere babies. She gives some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes – expecting to see or lay or hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.

Like a large corflute pizza box, the Snake Trap has a little trap door that leads to an internal spiral wall, which guides the snake in pursuit of an imaginary rodent evidenced by a trail of scenting media (mice and rat detritis).

Inside the Snake Safe Snake Trap

Inside the Snake Safe Snake Trap

Check the trigger, the trap door and deploy.

She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.

It’s sitting there now, nestled in the leaves by the sandpit.

Graeme, the man behind the Snake Trap, reckons I will be lucky to catch my snake. They’re generally just passing through, he says, and the idea of the Snake Trap is to set it up at the start of snake season to waylay any casual unwelcome visitors. But I’m watching that trap door and time spent in the sand pit is a little less carefree than it was.

It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs though his body. The hair on the back of neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake – a black one – comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot further. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake’s body close down on the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out – a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud – the snake’s back is broken in several places. Thud, thud – it’s head is crushed, and Alligator’s nose skinned again.

She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and the dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog’s head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims:

“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’ blarst me if I do!”

And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over bush.

SnakePit

Life in the farm lane

Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something has shifted in me. Standing on the footpath on a balmy Melbourne evening only last month, I was afraid.

Just a couple of metres and a shallow gutter was all that separated our tender little family from a roaring battery of motorbikes, cars, buses and even semis bouncing along the bitumen at 80km/hr. I gripped Alex’s still baby-soft hand protectively and found that despite his fascination with the unfamiliar lights, sounds and smells, I could take it no longer.

It wasn’t always like this. I lived in the city for a decade or so, growing my career and establishing a flourishing micro business that fed my curiousity. True, it always felt as though I were on a camping trip rather than at home but I had my bearings.

Perhaps it was the fear that comes with being a mother that propelled me to usher the little people back to our hotel room. Perhaps it was simply that I am now acclimatised to life in a different lane: the farm lane.

The background sounds tonight are the chorusing of frogs and the intermittent bellowing of bolshie bulls. The scent that wafts through my office window is pure freshly cut grass. Gentle, calming, natural.

But don’t be fooled. Nature sets the pace here, where a sense of urgency courses through the day. She demands the farmer rises before dawn to gather the cows, who must also be fed and protected from her vagaries, only to congregate once again at sunset. And if something goes awry, whether mechanical, physical or personal, Mother Nature is unforgiving.

We, too, know deadlines, budgets, the rat race and all the anxieties they bring. Like most parents, we worry that our children are somehow missing out, and, like most children thrust into the realities of adult responsibilities, we despair that so much is passing us by.

Don’t imagine we are so different: what binds us is so much stronger than that which divides us.

Rush hour in the farm lane

Rush hour in the farm lane

Never say die

When analysts talk about softening milk supply, there’s a whole other layer that’s anything but soft. It’s uncomfortable chats in the dairy about next week’s roster, sleepless nights worrying about where the next load of hay is going to come from, and long, long hours.

He spends more time in the tractor, she spends more time off-farm to pay the bills. The office is a mess, the kids watch a little more TV than usual and the mummy guilt rises with it. They all get snappy.

He comes in from the chilly night air long after the children have gone to bed. She’s in the office doing the books. Farms are not selling. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and there’s no way out, either.

Then one afternoon, the farm consultant brings a welcome dose of encouragement: the place is in great shape, poised to take advantage of any recovery, and the gossip around the traps is that an upbeat announcement from the co-op is imminent.

That night, as she takes her little boy out to check on the maternity paddock, the farmer is drawn by a ruckus at the dam. A moorhen hangs about a metre above the water, caught by one leg in a twist of wire and flapping its glossy blue-black wings desperately even though there’s clearly no hope of escape.

The farmer cannot stand and watch any more than she can walk away. With toddler on her shoulders and Blundstones squelching through the shallows, she wades towards the struggling bird. There is blood on the wire but with a deft spinning wrench, the fence springs back to shape, releasing the bird which, to the farmer’s astonishment, paddles away seemingly unhurt.

In the morning, the most anticipated email of the year arrives. To the farmer’s astonishment, the milk price will open 24 per cent higher than last year and the co-op has a little rescue package in the shape of a pre-payment for those prepared to pledge their loyalty. She reads the email twice more, just to be sure.

Never say die.

A milk maid’s Mother’s Day

Zoe is sound asleep still gripping a book propped upright on her chest with the rollicking Fantastic Mr Fox in full swing on her CD player. Alex is prostrate with both arms up around his ears.

Today was tough for my little people. Alex got himself soaked and in trouble with Mama for tossing stones into a trough while Zoe learnt the hard way not to swing on a gal gate beside a hot wire.

We were desperate to get a whole list of farm jobs done before the rain came and it was action stations all day. Now, as the first shower of a forecast two or three inch deluge tip-toes across the farm house’s iron roof, it seems all very satisfactory.

Zoe, Alex and I fed two batches of cows, treated a sick calf, repaired two fences and a gate (what is it with the bulls?), brought in a load of wood, planted a tree, sorted 24 cows from a mob of 60, shifted the teenagers and got out two new mums with their calves.

A real team effort

A real team effort

And, in amongst all that, I was treated to the most marvellous Mother’s Day. Wayne cooked a Moroccan chicken lunch and I was presented with all sorts of very meaningful mementos. I am very, very lucky indeed.

AutumnGardenAlexCowsLoRes

Work life balance on farm and a good dose of mother guilt

The slow burn of mother guilt catches me unawares sometimes but on other occasions, it’s as sharp as a knife. Or more accurately, as shrill as a tired toddler’s screech.

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

Just In Time (JIT) fencing

When a knock on the door from a concerned motorist signals a heifer and bull trotting down the road, which in turn reveals that a mob of skittish kangaroos have rendered your fence as floppy as a spoonful of fettuccine, a farmer has little choice but to report to the scene, sirens wailing. If the farmer is also the mother of a toddler, the ramifications can be far more serious: Nap Time Deferral (NTD).

Strapped to the Bobcat seat, my Little Man finds it hard to understand why Mama is singing lullabies as she fumbles with the fence strainer when she should be singing them at the bedside.

"Home, peese"

“Home, peese”

“Sorry, Little Man, I promise I’ll be as quick as I can, I just have to get this done…”

I know Mother Guilt is not limited to farming or, indeed, mothers. On Twitter’s AgChatOz forum the other day, fellow dairy farmers told of their dismay.

MotherGuilt

And, then, Shelby posted a link to this:

Cat’s in the Cradle always “gets me”, too. It’s times like these that I wonder if I am doing the right thing. My children see more of me going about daily life than they would if I was an office worker but, with farm returns so low, it seems we spend most of our time working and less of their time playing.

With the heifer paddock hastily patched up, Zoe, Alex and I returned last weekend to do the major works. As I wrestled with wire and strainers, they gambolled about the picturesque hidden paddock. Flanked by forest, they were out of the chilly wind, away from roads and so carelessly happy. I smiled as their little heads bobbed across the pastures and my spirits soared as their laughter echoed around the trees.

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

A gambol cures a dose of mother guilt

I was cured. Well, almost. What mother would stand back and film this?

A very special present from a dairy farmer’s son

Our new pastures were sown in the rain into lovely moist soil the first day after Easter. Nothing’s come up yet and although the farm is pretty green, it’s stopped raining! I can’t help checking in on the forecast every day hoping that a deluge is on its way.

Even one-year-old Alex seems to know how exciting a trip to a full rain gauge is during Autumn and, this afternoon, he arranged a special present for me.

"Mama! Mls!"

“Mama, Mama! Mils!”

Alex ran up with the “rain” he’d prepared, shouting “Mama, Mama, mills!”.

“How much?”

“Four!”

“Great work, Alex, keep it up!”

Our farm is rain-fed rather than irrigated and I must admit that I often look enviously across the valley towards neighbouring farms soaking in water during summer and critical times like these.

Typically, Aussie dairy farmers also daydream of the seemingly perfect New Zealand climate. While Australia’s dairy exports stagnated during our 12-year drought, Kiwi exports soared. This year is different. The Kiwis have had a drought of their own and without a grain industry to help them maintain their cows’ diets, milk production has plummeted.

It’s a cruel irony that the misery of our Kiwi counterparts has already begun to see the international milk prices rise and with it, our hopes for the next season.