Agriculture students at a high school in Sydney's southeast are achieving consistently high HSC results, and while it might not be at the epi-centre of agriculture in the state, their success is driven by the passion of a dedicated teacher in Mel Ready.
Ms Ready, who grew up in the Sutherland Shire, is also a former Menai High School student who discovered her love of agriculture at the same school where she now teaches.
She was in one of the first intakes for the HSC Primary Industries course when she was a student and after spending some time working on properties, she decided on a change of direction and has now been an agriculture teacher for about 10 years.
It has been a busy period preparing students for the HSC final exams, which commenced last week, particularly as she was also this Year 12 cohort's year advisor - a role she took on when the students started in Year 7.
"I always had a passion for agriculture. I always loved it," Ms Ready said.
"When I left school, I completed an agriculture degree, after which I went and worked on the land for a few years and then thought there was something more I wanted to be doing.
"My Mum was a teacher, and she suggested it to me.
"The same day, I enrolled at university, and that was it."
Menai High School has had a farm since it opened in 1988, and while it is a bit unusual for a city school to have this type of facility, other schools in Sydney are doing the same.
Eight Year 12 students chose agriculture as an elective in 2023.
A typical week sees 200 students out of about 1000 enrolled at the school pass through the school's farm gates.
Agriculture is mandatory for students in Year 8 and is offered as an elective in Years 9 and 10.
As well as about 40 chickens of various breeds, colours and sizes and 18 Border Leicester sheep, including one Border Leicester ram, breeding ewes and lambs, the school raises dairy calves on the 2.5-acre farm.
The sheep are sourced from Jeff Sutton's Wattle Farm Border Leicester stud at Temora.
Once the sheep have competed in a show season, they are sold to farms as stud animals.
The calves are purchased and raised for a full school term or borrowed as part of Dairy Australia's popular Cows Create Careers program, where they remain for three weeks, offering students practical experience.
Students in the school's show team feed and tend to the farm animals, which includes prize-winning chickens, and learn how to show, parade, and judge the animals at agricultural shows.
Ms Ready prepares the show team for competitions with skills, including training sheep to stand still for judging and delivering oral presentations in young judges' competitions.
"The show team becomes like a little club, and some great friendships develop," she said.
The school regularly wins ribbons at agricultural shows, including the 2023 Sydney Royal, where Menai High won the champion NSW schools' egg across all categories this year.
The team also took out champion Border Leicester ewe at Camden Show and reserve champion at Castle Hill Show for their Border Leicester ram this year.
The students learn poultry handling skills, and the eggs produced each day are sold to school staff.
Feed is purchased at Condell Park Produce, and the sheep are fed a mix of lucerne chaff, oaten chaff, lupins and barley.
Ms Ready said she had always enjoyed teaching and spending time with children.
"I love being in the classroom with the kids and explaining the importance of agriculture and how it relates to them," she said.
"I love my students.
"Seeing them learn, grow and develop in the ag industry and choose it as a career and watching that whole development is so rewarding."
Like Ms Ready, former students have also followed their passion and a path into agriculture.
These include an agriculture teacher, another who manages her alpaca stud, a veterinary student, an environmental officer, and another who works in agri-business.
"I love building that rapport with the kids and seeing them take off in their own careers," Ms Ready said.
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