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‘Townie’ teacher finds inspiration in dairy

Self-confessed `townie’ Melissa Berry is as surprised as anyone that she’s found inspiration in the dairy industry.

The Timboon P-12 school teacher admits she knew nothing about the industry when she was asked to help with the school’s extensive agricultural program. 

She even confesses to being “a bit of a princess” in her early days, far removed from someone comfortable on the land.

“I grew up in Warrnambool, Victoria, with no dairy farming in my blood,” she said. “My mum grew up on a dairy farm just past the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter factory and when I was little I used to go out there and pretend to help.”

Now married to a paramedic, Melissa became involved in the Timboon Agricultural Project (TAP) and things started to change.

“To start with I was apprehensive when TAP coordinator Andrea Vallance asked me to be involved,” Melissa admits. “I didn’t know if I could do the project justice, but I loved every minute of it and I’ve found a deep respect for farmers and everyone in the dairy industry. I learnt a lot more than I expected.”

TAP is an award-winning agricultural program across all year levels with a particular focus on the importance of the local dairy industry.

Melissa used Dairy Australia’s (DA) resources to introduce a Farm to Plate unit for Year 4 students, linking farming to literacy, numeracy, science and other parts of the curriculum.

In 2015, the connection was expanded to include DA’s Picasso Cow Makeover program, with Timboon P-12 winning the Victorian title.

“The students designed pictures to go on the cows and then spent 12 weeks painting them. We went on to win at state level against all the big schools,” Melissa said. 

This year the school also joined DA’s Discover Dairy Pen Pal program and paired up with a sister school at Lysterfield, on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne. “We write letters to the students at Lysterfield about what we do here, what farming life is like and how agriculture is part of the school,” Melissa said. “They write back with questions for our students to answer and we plan to meet in early 2017.”

The school is also involved in developing a DA online educational game about farm safety.

Students in the TAP program follow the path of milk from the paddock, through the dairy and processors, and eventually to the supermarket, and they learn about the history and importance of the industry to the local area.

“The kids retain the information because it’s meaningful to them,” Melissa said.

Melissa recently learned about DA’s Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network, also known as ALWN, and supports the idea of promoting the role women play in dairy. She now plans to become involved in the network and pass on her love of the industry.

“From being a townie, everyone laughs now at how obsessed I am with cows,” she said.