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Students milk Taranaki dairy farms

A higher price for milk fat is not only good news for New Zealand dairy farmers. It also means more opportunities for students to receive financial support from the Robert Gibson Methodist Trust.

The income from three Taranaki dairy farms supports the Trust, which every year seeks to distribute $200,000 to tertiary and secondary students with need and ability.

Trust chairman Alan Hughson explains that Robert Gibson owned a dairy farm at Kaponga near Mt Taranaki. He lived an exemplary Christian life and at his death in 1931 he left the farm to the Methodist Church with provisions to support his wife, daughter, and son.

“His idea was that the farm would become an orphanage that would also train young people to be farmers. At that time people were starting to adopt and orphanages were on the way out. The Church was actually horrified at the thought of starting another orphanage, and for 25 years the Trust was basically dormant.”

“In 1956 my uncle, Magnus Hughson and a New Plymouth lawyer, L.M. Moss put their heads together and came up with a proposal to run the farm as a trust that would distribute bursaries and grants to young people with a preference for orphans, Methodist and Presbyterian youth, and students of Wesley College,” Alan says.

Grants now go to young people who are not necessarily orphaned or affiliated with a church. Every year a bulk grant that now stands at $45,000 goes to Wesley College, which distributes the money to its students who need support, many of them from Pacific Islands. Another annual grant of $25,000 goes to the Methodist Church’s Youth Ministry. The Trust also supports the Robert Gibson Memorial Hall, which the Trust built in Manaia.

“Grants from the Trust go mainly to fund tertiary studies at university or poly tech. We try to spread the money around rather to put individual students right through post graduate programmes.”

“We have funded individual students through five year courses in dentistry, and others through three week courses in hair dressing. About half the students we fund are from farming families.”

Over the years the Trust has prospered. Robert Gibson’s original farm was divided in two with a new farm house, driveway and milking shed added to create another working farm.

Later the Trust used its reserves to purchase a third farm. Now that its mortgage is paid off, trustees intend to purchase a fourth property.

All three farms are run by 50-50 share milkers, and Alan says the Trust is proud of its reputation as a good employer.

“We are known as excellent employers. When we need to replace a share milker we get 40 applications because people know that our experienced farm committee will help them, train them up, and this assists them to then progress to owning their own farm.”

While the Robert Gibson Memorial Trust allocates most of its grant money in December, it distributes money at other times of the year as well.