“The Crookston Hall is a neat building. The West Otago Young Farmers always host their AGM there, and I’ve been to plenty of 21sts, balls and other birthdays held in it,” Kirsten says.
“The Crookston Hall is a neat building. The West Otago Young Farmers always host their AGM there, and I’ve been to plenty of 21sts, balls and other birthdays held in it,” Kirsten says.

I grew up in a place called Waikoikoi, about ten minutes out of Crookston. I spent a lot of my childhood in Crookston because two of my best friends, Annie-Kate and Kate, lived there. The three of us went to different primary schools but we did dance lessons together, taught by Annie-Kate’s mum in Tapanui. We used to go over to Annie-Kate’s house to practise. We also spent a lot of time on Kate’s dairy farm, picking berries from their big berry cage and going for walks.

Crookston is a whole lot of farms together – I wouldn’t say it’s a town as such, there are no shops, just the Crookston Hall – but it’s a great rural community where everyone knows everyone and we all get on. I love the area, and I love all things farming, but I wanted to go to university, so I knew I’d have to leave. I went to the University of Otago and studied economics and accounting, but after getting my commerce degree I realised I didn’t actually want to be an accountant, so I did a teaching diploma.

I met Matt, my partner, at university. His family has a dairy farm here in Crookston, which we moved to – I always thought I’d end up back here – and I now teach agriculture, economics and maths at Blue Mountain College, the same high school I went to. My parents live ten minutes down the road, and I help with the stock side of things on our family farm after school and on the weekend. I’ve always done both teaching and farming at the same time, which can get a little crazy!

Teaching at the high school that I attended was certainly a bit weird to start with. A lot of the teachers that I had are still there, and it took some adjusting to not call them Mrs and Mr So-and-So. I loved school and was what teachers call a “fluffy pencil-case kid.” We’ve definitely got students like that, who enjoy sitting up the front, and we also have kids who absolutely love farming, like I do, too. I see that when I’m teaching ag – see them striving to be great and going out on farm. I know that they’re going to be awesome people for the agricultural industry.

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I joined West Otago Young Farmers when I returned to Crookston. The West Otago A&P Show is one of those big community events everybody goes to, and it’s just down the road in Tapanui. As well as taking part in big water fights, I remember it being a great social time when I was younger, as the boarding-school kids would always be back for it. Nowadays, I help to organise cows for the dairy section and people to lead them around the ring. I also do a lot with Junior Young Farmers and AgriKidsNZ.

When the district and regional Young Farmer competitions took place nearby, it got us thinking that we should create some activities at the A&P Show for the younger kids, to get them involved and learn about farming, have some fun and win prizes. So, when I started teaching at Blue Mountain, I encouraged our students to enter the regional competitions. Things really grew from there.

In 2019 our group placed third in AgriKidsNZ regionals, which meant they qualified for nationals. It was one of the first years we’d ever taken students to a regional, so to make it to the national competition was very exciting. The kids, their parents and I as the teacher travelled up to Napier for it. We had no expectation of winning – we thought we’d all have a great time and the kids would learn a thing or two – so when they won the nationals not one of us had any suitable clothes to wear to the black-tie tea!

The following year we started out competing online because of Covid. Some of our team were siblings of the previous year’s winning team, and again they got into the top three, then won the nationals. By the third year, when our team made it into the top three at regionals, we didn’t think we could possibly take it out three years in a row. And they went and won, again! You can imagine it’s become quite a thing at school – Blue Mountain College pulls above its weight because our kids put their heart and soul into everything they do. As long as they continue wanting to do it, I’ll keep on helping them.

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