CELEBRATING its Foundation Day and commitment to the future of agriculture, Tocal College marked its 58th anniversary on Friday with the opening of its new Dairy Training Centre.
Formerly an old chicken coop and storage shed, the site has been transformed into a virtual, hands-on space where students from kindergarten to year 12 can come on-farm to learn all about how produce goes from paddock to plate.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Schools Program coordinator Meg Dunford said there was a disconnect between young people and the agricultural industry and she hoped the facility would help bridge that gap.
"I think that the disconnect is not just students, a lot of our culture, a lot of our society is sort of losing that connection of paddock to plate.
"Where their produce - where the raw product - is actually created, how it's farmed, how it's produced, how it's processed all the way to how they get it from the supermarket," she said.
She said it was important to engage students with all the opportunities available in the agricultural sector.
"It's so important to engage students with the opportunities in agriculture, for them as a consumer and as a possible career choice because there's so much technology and excitement," she said.
"It's a really exciting space to be right now."
The Dairy Training Centre houses a range of interactive experiences such as testing pH levels in water, soil collecting, topography putting lucerne under the microscope and explaining the process of produce.
Everything the students learn in the "virtual farm" they get to see when they step outside onto Tocal's operating farm, Ms Dunford said.
"When students come for an excursion they get to do a farm tour, it's a massive insight into agriculture, it's not just sitting in a classroom," she said.
Tocal College student association president Jesse Emery, 21, is nearing the end of his first year studying a Cert III in Agriculture and said having this facility has made a world of difference.
"When I first started here I had no agriculture background whatsoever, no livestock skills, so this gave me an introduction into the livestock category," he said.
He said in high school Ag "wasn't a thing" and his main electors were Drama and Ancient History.
"I went into cabinet making after school, I really wanted to get into Ag and farming but didn't know how and then I found Tocal College," he said.
He encouraged school students to take an interest and consider a career in the sector.
"If you don't give it a go, you're not going to know what you're missing out on. If you want to give it a go in agriculture, there's so many people out there that will take you on and Tocal College is that branching point for younger students," he said.
Tocal Agricultural Centre director and College principal Darren Bayley said the Dairy Training Centre was all about experiential learning.
"This is a fantastic facility. You've got a commercial dairy and a teaching facility on your doorstep," he said.
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