The founder of Future Farmers, Judy Stuart, right, with graduate Lungelo Mathenjwa.
Judy Stuart, the founder and chief executive of Future Farmers, a unique farming education initiative providing work-integrated learning experiences for aspiring farmers, has been selected as a recipient of a 2018 Klaus J Jacobs Award for social innovation and engagement by the Jacobs Foundation.

The Swiss-based Jacobs Foundation, which seeks to promote education with the goal of improving the lives of current and future generations of young people, awards ­annual prizes for exceptional achievements in research and practice in the field of child and youth development.

Stuart was selected from more than 50 nominees to receive the award, and will travel to Switzerland later this year to accept it on behalf of Future Farmers. With the R1-million prize money, Stuart plans to build a facility to accommodate the many applicants who travel from all over South Africa to Howick for Future Farmer interviews and have nowhere to stay overnight.

The facility will also include a lecture room for short courses such as first aid and soft-skills training, as well as a facility to run orientation courses for Future Farmers leaving on overseas internships.

Future Farmers aims to cultivate skills and ignite a passion for farming in young aspiring farmers between the ages of 18 and 26, by providing them with real job experiences in a field of agriculture of their choice.

The programme is designed to give young people the opportunity to “learn as they earn” by finding apprentice positions on local, and then later, international, farms.

Future Farmers started in 2006 when Stuart, a dairy farmer herself, discovered that many passionate young graduates from a local agricultural high school were unable to access tertiary education or find posi-tions on farms.

Stuart asked local farmers to take these students on as apprentices for them to “learn and earn” as a stepping stone to careers in agriculture.

At the time, Stuart was involved with American Field Scholars (AFS), an international exchange, study abroad and volunteer programme, and had seen how young people visiting South Africa had benefited from the experience.

She wanted these young future farmers to have the same experience - and so the first Future Farmer to do an overseas internship went to Germany, where he assisted on a dairy farm.

Since then, many Future Farmers have completed 12-month internships and gone on to successful careers in farming.

There are now 37 Future Farmer interns in farming enterprises in the US and in Australia.

The success of Future Farmers is largely due to the many farmers and agri-businesses who partner with the organisation, including the KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), which has secured funding for Future Farmers.

Kwanalu chief executive Sandy La Marque congratulated Stuart on her achievement.

“It is a superb achievement for Judy and Kwanalu is exceptionally proud to be part of the Future Farmer dream that Judy has worked so tirelessly to implement,” said La Marque.

“This is truly an initiative that makes a real difference.”