The Weekly Times Education shares how learning by experience at Yarra Junction Campus gives students valuable insights into a career in agriculture.

Year 8 students at Yarra Junction Campus. Pictures by Yuri Kouzmin

Drive by Caulfield Grammar’s Yarra Junction Campus and the 150ha property is – by appearance – more of a dairy farm and less of a school. 

There is a herd of up to 180 self-replacing Holstein-Friesians and a 16-aside dairy, with milk transported to Lactalis’ Rowville processing plant. 

But Head of Yarra Junction Campus Sarah Klein says the farm is every bit a teaching facility. 

“The purpose of the property is not to make money – although we try to have it break even – but to provide an educational experience, to open students’ eyes to the agricultural industry, which many take for granted,” Sarah says. “It’s not a camp because there’s more learning rigor: what’s taught here is embedded into the curriculum.”  

She says YJ, as it is affectionately know, provides a plethora of agricultural learning opportunities, from classes on food miles that highlight the importance of locally sourced products, to the science of artificial insemination. 

Caulfield Grammar has three enrolment campuses in Wheelers Hill, Malvern and Caulfield, teaching about 3600 students from Early Learning to Year 12, including boarders from Year 9, with all students exposed to the dairy farm experience. 

The first exposure comes in Year 3, with students spending one day at YJ, where they adopt a calf and then follow that calf through its life in later year levels, understanding the breed, fertility, productivity and bloodlines. 

Year 5 students spend three days at YJ. 

Year 7 students spend five days, rising at 5.00am to milk the herd, while the following year they develop their cattle knowledge with AI, ear tags and pregnancy testing. 

Year 8 students also have a choice to work in the dairy or take part in outdoor activities such as caving or bike riding.

In Year 9 students have the option to return to YJ to undertake a leadership development program, with those students then returning in Years 10 and 11 to lead the younger students. 

In addition, students who have completed VCE can return in Year 13 to complete a traineeship, which is akin to a gap year. The traineeship provides a Certificate Three in Outdoor Leadership, which incorporates elements of the farm with other activities offered at YJ, such as cycling, hiking and river sports. 

“A number of those students who do the traineeship do so because they have a farming background and are interested in working in agriculture in the future,” Sarah says. She adds there are an average of six trainees each year at YJ. This year one has a farming background and the others are metropolitan students who are interested in agriculture careers. 

YJ also has a half-hectare vegetable garden with fruit trees and seasonal crops, with children in Years 7 and 8 maintaining the patch, harvesting and then using the produce in the campus kitchen for meals. 

“It’s introductory level not advanced horticulture. We’re not even close to producing enough produce for our needs. Zucchini slice is probably the closest we’ve come to feeding the whole group.”  Sarah says the property also has up to 20 chickens, which are cared for by students and with eggs largely supplying the campus’ needs. 

The campus – which is “device free” – can accommodate about 70 students and has 20 staff, including dairy manager Julian Bennett, who has worked for the School for 32 years. 

“He would have to be the most well-known staff member at the school,” added Sarah, who has been at the campus a year. “He’s the holy grail of the farm.” 

Julian now works alongside his daughter Maddy, who is the assistant farm manager. 

Ask students if they enjoy the farm experience and Sarah says with a laugh “It depends on the day. If it’s cold, rainy and they’ve been pooed on in the dairy they don’t like it. We find that after they’ve digested the experience when they return home, they say how awesome it was.  When they return in Years 10 and 11 as leaders they talk about the fondness of what they learnt here. Most love it.” 

She adds the property was donated to the School in 1945 by a former student and after the post-war era was transformed into a dairy to help with “life skills and resilience”. 

Now it has become a rite of passage that students come to YJ (Yarra Junction) to milk the cows.